Granny Goulash

Granny’s Goulash is too good to come in a can, unless you make your own can!

December 11, 2020.  When I was a kid, my idea of Italian food was SpaghettiOs and Chef Boyardee Spaghetti and Meatballs, Ravioli and Lasagna, but never Beefaroni because Granny took pride in making a homemade version of that in a dish she called ‘Goulash”. An exotic name for sure, especially for a boy who ate his international cuisine out of a can.  The name of this casserole has changed, depending on where we’ve lived- American Chop Suey in the Northeast, Johnny Marzetti or Slumgullion in an area bordering the Midwest and Chili Mac in the South (not sure what they called it in Canada)-, but no matter where we were or will be, we will have and always will call it Granny Goulash!

I have to say, it wasn’t love at first sight for me- I hated and dramatically gagged any time I got a big chunk of tomato in a mouthful of Granny Goulash in the early days- one night, so much so, that Granny sent me to bed without dinner. Luckily, your Great Granny H. snuck me some Oreos in bed, which was a good deal, if you ask me.  For perspective, Gramps would often send me to bed without dinner if I acted the fool during the family meal, especially that one summer when my wayward cousin lived with us after my wayward aunt sent him to us so Gramps could be the father figure he was missing at the time. As for Granny, this was the one and only time she ever denied me dinner as a punishment- that’s why she was my favorite parent, as I would often tell Gramps, but that was only after he would tell me, without prompting, that my sister was his favorite child.

At some point, my outlook and palate matured enough to appreciate Granny’s Goulash for what it was- a delicious, family recipe that was always made with love for everyone at the table.  I still remember how happy mom and I would be when Granny would sometimes surprise us with a tub of her Goulash when mom picked up our one and only baby at the time from Granny and Gramps’ care on her way home from work- that was when I still worked a few days outside the home. Mom couldn’t even wait to get home before she got into that tub- digging into it at stoplights, regardless of whether or not she had utensils, and trying to avoid expensive dry cleaning bills in the process. I would always get a little mad whenever I saw the noticeable divot in the goulash when we sat down to eat, but once I got my first bite, I realized I would have done the same thing.

In a bit of culinary irony and in spite of her Polish heritage, Granny learned this recipe from your Great Granny C- her mother-in-law, who was Scottish. Nevertheless, it was Granny who perfected the recipe over the years, adding a lot more vegetables (but never, ever green peppers!) and flavor and learning not to cook the macaroni to mush.  I’ve made this recipe with Granny’s standard ground beef; but, also with ground turkey, ground chicken, minced mushrooms, cannellini beans and various forms of vegetarian/vegan “meat”- never quite as good as Granny’s, as Mom is always quick to point out, but still pretty darn good.  It also doesn’t hurt that Granny Goulash can be made ahead, easily doubled, tripled, etc and frozen for future meals, as well.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time:  35-40 minutes

Servings: 4- 6


Veggie Mince

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 1 small carrot, minced
  • 2 celery stalks, minced
  • 1 small red, yellow or orange (never green) bell pepper, minced
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • kosher salt 
  • fresh cracked black pepper

“Meat” Mince

  • 1 pound ground meat or meat like substance, 1 1/2 pounds of cremini mushrooms or 2-3 cans of 15 ounce kidney, pinto and/or white beans, drained and rinsed- I used the Beyond Beef, meat like substance, for this post
  • 1 tablespoon ponzu or low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3 cloves of garlic, grated on a microplane

The Sauce

  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes, crushed with your clean, bare hands, potato masher or other crushing device- you’ll get about 3 cups
  • 1-2 cups of low sodium vegetable or other broth, optional for a One Pot Wonder
  • 2-3 tablespoons parmesan cheese (Granny used the “cheese” that came in a green can) or nutritional yeast “Nooch”
  • kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, sugar to taste
  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni, the standard casserole noodle back in the day
Careful, crushing your whole tomatoes- too much force and you have Tomato Grenade juice on your hands, shirt, pants, etc.


Granny was proud of her Polish heritage, and who doesn’t love a good polka, so I’m recommending a 1959 big and bold blend of Polish Polka music to connect with Granny as you cook one of her gifts to our family.

  1. Vegetable Mince.  Heat oil in Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat until it will make your veggies sizzle; then add onions, carrots, a few pinches of salt and pepper and cook until the onions start to brown, 5-7 minutes.  Stir in celery, peppers, pepper flakes and cook it all until there is a nice brown, flavor crust on the bottom of the pot, 5-10 minutes more.
  2. Meat Mince.  Stir in meat, meat like substance or mushrooms and scrape the brown veggie flavor crust up into the mix, getting as much meat as possible in contact with the bottom of the pan after you’re done scraping. Cook over medium high heat until “meat” is nicely browned and you have another layer of brown goodness on the bottom of your pot (you can see a nice, brown pan bottom in the second picture below), 10-15 minutes. If using beans, just dump them in, scrape up the brown veggie bits and move right along to the next step.  
  3. Stir in ponzu sauce and tomato paste and adjust the heat to “toast” paste for a few minutes. Stir in garlic, which you shouldn’t cook for more than a minute.
  4. Sauce.  Add wine and scrape up the brown goodness, cooking off the alcohol for a few minutes before you stir in tomatoes, scrape a bit more and allow the sauce to simmer and thicken, about 15 minutes. Stir in parmesan cheese or Nooch, taste and adjust seasoning, as needed, with salt, pepper, and maybe even a bit of sugar, if it’s tasting too sharp.  
  5. If you want to make this a One Pot Wonder, you can skip the pasta pot in the next step and add 1 cup of broth and pasta to the sauce and simmer, adding more broth, as needed, until the pasta is al dente.  I don’t mind the extra pot to better control texture of the macaroni, especially if you expect leftovers.
  6. Noodle Time.  While your sauce is simmering, get a big ol’ pot of salted pasta water on the stove, and cook macaroni a few minutes less than its package directs. Add par cooked macaroni to sauce and cook in sauce until al dente.
  7. Finish Up.  Once macaroni finishes cooking in the sauce to al dente, taste everything and adjust seasoning as needed.  Serve with extra red pepper flakes, parmesan cheese and/or Nooch on the side.


Veg Advice.  Feel free to use any type of onion and mixture of vegetables you have on hand, about 1/2-1 cup of minced onion and 1-2 cups of vegetables, but never, ever use green bell peppers- vilified as a “waste of a vegetable” in our family. Also, if you are using mushrooms, beans or a meat like substance, also feel free to us a tablespoon or more, to taste, of Vegan Flavor Power (See, Vegan Flavor Power in “I Can’t Believe It’s Mushroom Gravy” Lecture). I used wine, ponzu sauce and nutritional yeast this time around. Also, if we’re being honest, I like a little more crushed tomatoes in the sauce, but wasn’t sure if you would want to open another can and have to deal with leftover tomatoes. If you do, crush another can of tomatoes and add a cup or so more to the sauce and save or freeze the rest of the tomatoes for something else.

A Good Sear.  If you have the time and want a little more flavor, you can remove the browned vegetables to a side plate and sear the meat, meat like substance or mushrooms on its own for a better sear and then add the veggies back in and continue with the recipe. 

Keyword: comfort food, vegan option, Granny Classic, pasta, one pot wonder, goulash, American Chop Suey, Johnny Marzetti, and so on……

© 2020 All rights reserved.  Dad’s Dinner Diary

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