Transylvanian Beef Stew with Pumpkin Goulash

Transylvanian Beef Stew with Pumpkin Goulash

This is a treasured family recipe dating from my ancestral Transylvania kitchen, or so the legend goes. My husband Richard enjoys telling anyone kind (or bored) enough to listen that I trace my bloodline back to Count Dracula.

How insulting! Why does he (and most everyone) automatically associate the stunning Carpathian landscape and rich history of Transylvania to such a frightening character?

Good reason. According to Wikipedia, in 15th century Transylvania there was a prince known as Vlad the Impaler whose horrific punishments inflicted on his enemies in their quest to expand the Ottoman Empire inspired Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula.”

The turbulent history of Transylvania is, in general, strongly contested. Romanian historians claim their ancestors populated the region in the second century; Hungarian historians say when their ancestors arrived in the ninth century, the land was unoccupied. Today, according to Wikipedia, Transylvania rests in the central part of Romania. According to the website UNC Global, Transylvania is central to the creation, cultural identity and national ideologies of Hungary and Romania; the one thing uniting both ethnicities is food.

According to the website Food in Hungary: “The Hungarian national dish is meat stew. People outside Hungary call it ‘goulash,’ but the Hungarians have several different names for it, including pörkölt and tokány … or gulyás.” Like all recipes associated with a national cuisine, goulash has as many interpretations as the rollicking history of Hungary. Commonalities of the stew include onions, meat, caraway and paprika. Sauerkraut is another common addition to goulash.

I enjoy making beef stews and having an excuse to use my cauldron on Halloween. And goulash sounds, well, ghoulish. But polenta? Would serving Hungary’s iconic culinary heritage over a plate of polenta be treason? Not if uniting neighboring cultures is the intention. A bit of Google browsing led me to what one site claims as “… the national dish of Romania, Mamaliga, a mess of corn that is very much like polenta and used to accompany many dishes.”

This Transylvania stew deliciously combines the flavors of Hungary, Romania and Italy with sautéed onions, meat, paprika and creamy polenta, spiked with seasonal pumpkin flavor. The stew man be made up to 48 hours in advance; re-season before serving.

My great aunt, the Countess Dracula VIII, however, is displeased with this fusion. She holds a grudge. (Incidentally Richard, you’d better wear an ascot Sunday night, ’cause guess who’s coming to dinner!)


Recipe: Transylvanian Beef Stew with Pumpkin Goulash


  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 1/2-2 pounds beef stewing meat (cut into 1-inch pieces)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 large green bell pepper, stem end and membranes removed, sliced (2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream, optional
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus extra sprigs for garnish
  • 1 recipe for Pumpkin Polenta (recipe follows)


  1. Melt butter and heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot, Dutch oven or cauldron over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of kosher salt and cook, stirring, 6 minutes or until onions are beginning to become limp.
  2. Season beef with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and toss with flour to coat on all sides. Stir paprika and caraway seeds into onions and simmer, stirring, 30 seconds. Then add the beef to the onion mixture, cooking and stirring for 2 minutes.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of the stock, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot as the broth thickens with the floured beef. Gradually stir in the remaining broth. Stir in tomato paste and peppers and bring to a slow simmer. Cover and cook, occasionally stirring, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours or until beef is very tender. (Note: If stew if watery after 1 1/2 hours, remove cover and let reduce until desired thickness; if it is too thick, add additional stock in 1/4 cup increments.) Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper; stir in dill.
  4. Serve in individual bowls over Pumpkin Polenta (recipe follows), topped with dollops of sour cream, if using.

Active Time: 25 minutes

Simmer Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours

Number of servings (yield): 5 cups

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

Recipe: Polenta


  • 3 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
  • 1 1/4 cup cornmeal*
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin purée (1 1/2 cups)
  • Cayenne


  1. Pour stock and butter, if using, into heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce to medium-low heat. When bubbles subside, slowly whisk cornmeal into the hot stock. (Do not get distracted or your polenta will be lumpy.) Whisk in the pumpkin purée, constantly whisking until smooth. Season to taste with kosher salt and cayenne.

*I used Quaker Yellow Cornmeal as it’s easy to find. Traditionally, polenta is made with stone ground cornmeal and it has a wonderful flavor and toothsome texture. There are boxed polentas in stores which are essentially cornmeal, as well. Keep in mind that liquid to cornmeal mixtures may vary slightly if you use a different cornmeal than what is specified in this recipe.

Active Time: 25 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 5 cups

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

More Recipes Filed Under "Beef"

14 Responses to Transylvanian Beef Stew with Pumpkin Goulash

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  3. Lei says:

    wow that looks so good!! Interesting to have a stew with polenta and even more interesting to find a Transylvanian recipe! Keep it up xx

    • Peggy says:

      Thanks Lei! With cold March winds blowing outside my front door, this is appreciated as much today as it is in October. Peggy

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