The past few winters in the Carolinas have all had at least one unique weather episode, and several have headed from winter to spring and then stutter-stepped as if they couldn’t decide what to do. Winter usually begins to break in February, but I can recall several snows and freezes in March, and a couple of them were real doozies. 

Because there are some cool evenings this month, it isn’t out of place to offer a warming recipe. Goulash means different things to different people, but the base for all resembles a very thick soup, without much liquid. It’s not quite a stew, but it’s not far off. Every goulash has meat and vegetables; the next most-consistent ingredient is pasta. The pasta should be elbow macaroni, as it holds little bits of the broth for flavor in every bite, but there are recipes that use any pasta, including spinach spaghetti noodles, and most taste pretty good.

One thing about goulash is it helps a little bit of meat go a long way. This recipe only uses a pound of venison and will easily feed eight hungry people. The vegetables are key, and there doesn’t seem to be a standard. Research shows that tomatoes and peppers are a modern addition, but they fit well. Some of the spices, like chili powder and cumin, are modern additions, too. Several recipes use potatoes instead of pasta, but they get really close to being stew, not goulash.

This recipe is an original, but there are bits and pieces borrowed from many different recipes. There are also some “How-about-this?” ingredients that made the cut after some early versions. A few ingredients didn’t last through the trials. It’s a little spicy but not hot, and it is a good meal for your family, plus it works well at hunting and fishing camps. It can easily be made milder if that suits your palate. 

This isn’t quite the set-it-and-forget-it of most crock-pot cooking, but having to add the macaroni noodles and let them simmer gives fishermen and hunters time to clean their catch or kill, and everyone has time to clean up. No appetizer is needed as the aroma wafting from the crock will have everyone plenty hungry.

Daylight Saving Time begins on March 12, and spring arrives on March 20. With the extra hour of daylight in the evening and the warming weather, Southwestern goulash will be a good meal to enjoy on the deck or patio, and you don’t have to fire up the grill. Just fill a bowl, grab your favorite beverage and watch one of our fantastic Carolina sunsets. It doesn’t get much better.

Southwestern venison goulash

As a youngster, I thought the only goulash was Hungarian. I seriously thought the two words went together like “Australian outback.” We rarely had goulash at home, but several friends’ moms made it, and I always enjoyed being invited over for Hungarian goulash night. I knew it was a pretty simple preparation, but the ground meat and macaroni mixture always tasted good, like my friends’ moms had been working hard at it all day.

I have liked most of the goulash meals I tried, and at some point I learned that not all goulash was Hungarian. I always thought meat and macaroni were the starting points and preferred the liquid to be closer to gravy or roux than soup broth. This dish is a combination of my liking goulash dishes and southwest flavors, a bit of research and my willingness to include ingredients I find interesting. It isn’t quite, “Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue,” but Southwestern goulash is a marriage of flavors that turned out better than expected.  

In researching goulash, there were so many variations, I thought there weren’t any boundaries. Being a hunter, I had to try it with venison and feral pork, and both are good. More folks have access to venison, so this recipe features it. I’ve even tried something called goulash with potatoes instead of pasta. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t goulash — at least not to me. 

I like tomatoes and decided the spice of Rotel tomatoes and chilies would be a good addition. While thinking southwestern, corn just sort of became a natural ingredient. The next thought was, “Why not add some mushrooms?” The recipe works without them, but I like mushrooms, so I threw in a package. That’s the way goulash, at least my goulash, works. I’m using no salt, reduced salt, and no salt-added ingredients whenever possible, and this still has plenty of flavor.

This makes a bunch, but I wanted to make it using whole cans or packages to make it easy. It will feed eight hungry hunters or fishermen, so invite friends, prepare for leftovers or prepare to freeze some. Freezing in individual servings makes for easy, tasty lunches.

I hope you like this. It’s what my wife and some of my friends call another of my concoctions. It looks like goulash, but has a southwestern flavor, so I call it southwest goulash. You can call it what you like, but I’ll bet if you try it, you’ll make it again. 

Oh yeah, just like spaghetti and other things with pasta, it tastes better every time you cool and reheat it.  Enjoy. 

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound ground venison

2 cans Rotel Tomatoes and green chilies

1 can diced tomatoes 

1 can pinto beans

1 can black beans 

1 can whole kernel corn

11/2 cups spaghetti sauce (plain or garlic)

1 small box elbow macaroni

8 ounces fresh mushrooms 

2 jalapeno peppers

1 medium sweet onion

1 pack (3) baby bell peppers

11/2 tbsp chili powder 

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp powdered smoked chipotle peppers

1 tsp coarse ground black pepper

1/2 tsp white pepper

2 tsp beef bouillon

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Butter flavored non-stick cooking spray

Texas Pete Cha Sauce (to taste)

PREPARATION:

Brown the venison and drain any grease. Remove seeds and dice the jalapenos and baby bell peppers fine.Chop mushrooms and onion pretty coarse.Lightly spray crock pot with cooking spray. Put browned venison in crock pot. Stir in tomatoes, jalapenos, bell pepper, onion, beans, corn, bouillon and spices — everything but macaroni noodles. Cook on low for 5 to 6 hours. Stir well, then stir in macaroni and mix well. Cook on low an additional 30 to 45 minutes stirring occasionally, until the noodles are tender. Serve while hot.

This is a pretty complete meal. The only thing I would consider adding is some hearty, fresh, hot bread or corn muffins to help get the last out of the bowl. Some folks believe this is plenty spicy as it goes, but for those folks whose taste buds like a little more excitement, I believe Texas Pete Cha Sauce is just the ticket. This will be too much for those with milder palates, but Texas Pete Cha Sauce has a sweet, smoky flavor that I believe adds more than just a little heat. You can also sprinkle on a little more ground smoked chipotle peppers for their smoky flavor, without adding much heat.