American Goulash Recipe

American Goulash is an American comfort food dish, and sometimes referred to as American Chop Suey. American Goulash is usually referred to in the midwestern and southern United States as simply "goulash".

American Goulash Recipe

When I was growing up, this was a dish that was almost always on the table every night . . .  my dinner table had six family members sitting at it and usually several other teenager neighborhood boys squeezed in as well . . . so needless to say . . . we needed a lot of food!

This Goulash was on the table as a filler . . .  my mom needed a food that would fill all these teenagers without breaking my father’s wallet. Growing up in rural Iowa, the grocery stores were nothing like they are today. Fresh vegetables were not plentiful and most of the time my mother was using frozen or canned foods from our stock. My mom personally picked her vegetables from her summer garden and painstakingly canned all of these and stored them in the cellar, and yes, we had a cellar (which on a side note, I was terrified of entering when I was a child because my older brother would lock me down there all the time because he was such a bully).

Anyway in this Goulash dinner staple, she used her very own canned tomato juice, her very own canned tomatoes, ground beef that had been butchered from a cow from my grandmother’s farm and onions from our garden that were in the cellar in burlap bags.

Is It American Chop Suey or Goulash?

We didn’t call this American Chop Suey as is referenced by a lot of Americans in remembrance of their favorite dish as a child. We called it Goulash and my father despised it. He would eat it, because he grew up with parents who grew up during the war and you simply did not waste any food at all, ever. But, my father didn’t particularly enjoy Goulash.

I loved it, I recall it being one of my favorite dishes to eat in fact. Sometimes we would have it with just tomato juice or with tomato juice and tomatoes and sometimes it would be with loaded of ground beef. It really depend upon how much of a filler was needed that evening for dinner. My brother and I were discussing this "Goulash" last year and laughing about it with fond memory.
The funny thing about frying up the ground beef is, my mother never bought a container of vegetable oil in her life, that I can recall. I literally don’t ever recall seeing this in her cupboards growing up. When she cooked the ground beef, she reached down on a lower shelf for the jar she kept there from the leftover grease/lard/fat drainings from previous meals cooked on her stove (ie: grease draining from bacon etc).

American Goulash Recipe

This was how her mother cooked before her and I imagine, most mothers cooked during these decades. Both of my grandmothers cooked this way and this is how I was taught as well. I don’t cook that way today, but I think this leftover fat certainly added to the overall flavor of the dish. She would scoop out a bit of her leftover lard from her much used lard jar and cook up the ground beef from the tubes we would have in our freezer from the butcher.

I will have to say, this is not the same ground beef that is available today from the grocer either. This is fresh, it didn’t last long in our freezer with as many kids that were always eating at my house all the time and the fat content added in was very little and right from the very cow that was butchered for us.
Anyway, all the ingredients of the Goulash came from our garden and farm. Some salt would be added and that was it . . . served to the table, piping hot. Goulash didn’t last long in my house and it was served often.

American Goulash Recipe

I decided to make GOULASH for my kiddos to see if they would enjoy this dish as much as I recall enjoying this dish as a child. However, I don't have the same fresh ingredients as my mother did. I told the story to them that I just wrote above. The difference being that I used everything from the grocery store and not from a garden or butcher. I also added some green pepper for color and added flavor.

My kids picked around everything and only nibbled at the pasta. My middle child, who is my least picky eater, ate my Goulash without complaint. My youngest daughter liked only the pasta and my son pretty much refused to eat any of it. My husband ate it, but like my father, didn’t complain, but I could tell it was not a dish that I would be making again anytime soon. My kids are super spoiled with organic fresh vegetables and dishes like salmon and sun roasted tomato chicken!

I think my heart was a bit broken that none of my children liked my goulash as much as I did. Did it taste the same as I remembered? No. But memories seldom do. Did I still enjoy my goulash? Yes, yes I did! My children generally felt bad that they didn’t like it because they loved listening to my story of Goulash. This will probably forever be one of my favorite recipes from my childhood because we ate it so much. Goulash, in its simplicity, captures what America was like growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in rural Iowa, for me at least.

What recipe do you have from my childhood that evokes great memories?

American Goulash Recipe

American Goulash


2 lbs ground beef (I actually use a mix of ground chicken and ground pork)
1 onion (large or small, depends on your tastes)
1 green bell pepper (optional)
3 cans whole tomatoes
1 box elbow pasta
Salt to taste (pepper as well, but I do not like pepper)
1 Tbsp garlic powder OR 2 cloves of chopped garlic


In a large pot, saute the ground beef, onions, garlic powder, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until ground beef is thoroughly cooked. Add the chopped green pepper.

Add the canned tomatoes, crushing the tomatoes to smaller pieces with a wooden spoon.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add elbow pasta and generously salt.

Once cooked, drain the pasta and add the ground beef and serve.