Vegan Hungarian goulash is a hearty and satisfying soup flavoured with paprika and ready in 30 minutes. This vegan goulash will transport you to Budapest and is the closest you'll ever have to the real thing!
Is Hungarian goulash a soup or a stew?
Hungarian goulash is a soup. The dish is called gulyásleves in Hungarian and translates to “goulash soup”.
When we were in Budapest, we visited Napfényes Restaurant and Confectionary, which is Happy Cow’s top-rated vegan restaurant in Budapest.
Their babgulyás, bean goulash, is listed under soups and below is a photo I took in the restaurant:
My husband, who is not vegan, had several bowls of goulash while there. Each time it was a soup with chunks of meat and finely diced vegetables, served in a bowl by itself and never with elbow noodles, mashed potatoes or rice.
If you'd like to see some photos of authentic meat-based Hungarian goulash, check out this post from We Love Budapest.
Most other English-language food bloggers will tell you that Hungarian goulash is somewhere between a soup and a stew.
The problem is that they all just copy each other’s recipes and never do any real research about the dish (Spanish romesco sauce is another frustrating example of this).
There is another dish in Hungary called pörkölt and it is basically a thickened version of goulash, i.e. a stew, and can be served with pasta or nokedli (similar to spätzle) as a side dish.
Furthermore, many European countries have their own type of goulash and they’re often thick stews similar to pörkölt.
It’s very important to not confuse Hungarian goulash with American goulash. American goulash is a recipe in its own right but is totally different. American goulash is ground beef (veganize with lentils or TVP) with elbow noodles or macaroni, canned tomato and paprika.
So when you search for a Hungarian goulash recipe on the internet, what you’ll find most often is something more similar to pörkölt or another country’s version of goulash. But if it’s not a soup, it’s not Hungarian goulash.
Does Hungarian goulash have noodles?
Hungarian Goulash can have noodles but not the type of noodles you’re probably thinking of.
Some regions of Hungary add a type of pasta called csipetke to their goulash. These are tiny hand-made dumplings / noodles made from flour and egg.
Bits of dough are pinched off the ball of dough and dropped into the boiling soup.
Even with the inclusion of csipetke, goulash remains a soup and is not served over egg noodles, spiral pasta or with elbow noodles or macaroni.
How to make vegan Hungarian goulash
Making a veganized version of goulash is really easy and my recipe employs several tricks to get a flavourful broth that’s viscous with a nice “mouth feel”.
It starts by sauteing the veggies. I used onion, garlic, carrots and potatoes. You can use other root vegetables like turnips, celery or celery root, or parsnips.
Many other recipes use Hungarian wax peppers or, as a substitution, banana peppers or yellow bell peppers. You can include those if you want.
Additionally, caraway seeds is a common ingredient in Hungarian goulash though not obligatory. I tried it in my early test batches but my husband didn't like it as he didn't think it had the same flavour profile as the goulash he tried in Budapest. Ultimately I left it out of my final recipe but you can add a tiny pinch if you want.
Then I add tomato paste. I prefer tomato paste over chopped tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes because tomato paste is more umami and helps to thicken the soup.
Next comes the paprika. For the most “authentic” flavour, use sweet Hungarian paprika.
I will admit that since I didn’t have enough Hungarian paprika to do several tests of this recipe, I substituted a low-quality Spanish paprika for the earlier tests. It was still really good although smokier and not “authentic” in flavour.
If you want to add a bit of kick to your vegan goulash, you can also add a pinch of the hot version of Hungarian paprika.
Next pour in the stock. Use a nice vegetable stock or a vegan beef-flavoured stock if you can get such a thing.
I was basing my recipe off the goulash that I had at Napfényes Restaurant so I opted to make a bean goulash rather than substituting the meat with soy chunks or something similar.
And that brings us to the tricks of this vegan Hungarian goulash recipe.
Hungarian goulash with meat gets its thickness and saucy mouth feel from slow cooking which allows the collagen in the meat to convert to gelatin. Gross, right?
To achieve the same sort of viscosity without meat the first trick is to not drain and rinse the beans. Adding the thick bean cooking juice, or aquafaba, to the soup is one way to thicken the broth.
The second trick is to use agar agar.
What is agar agar?
Agar agar is made from algae and it is a vegan gelatin substitute. It’s often used in desserts to achieve jello-like jellies or to set vegan panna cotta.
It can also be used to thicken soups but I don’t often see recipes in English calling for agar as a soup thickener.
It’s really easy to use and gives a much more similar consistency to meat-based broths than using flour or cornstarch.
You can find agar agar in health food stores, large well-stocked supermarkets in the health food aisle or international aisle, or in an Asian supermarket as it’s an ingredient used much more extensively in Asia.
It comes in different forms but the most common is as a powder and that is what I used here.
Agar needs to be boiled to be activated so I did this in a separate pot with half the stock before adding it into the main soup.
If you don’t want to use agar agar, you don’t have to. It is flavourless so it does not change the flavour of the soup. It just thickens it slightly and gives a really nice body to the soup, making it more substantial and satisfying.
One thing to note is that it will continue to gel as the soup cools. If you have any leftovers and put them in the fridge, the soup will turn a bit into jelly. This is normal and once the soup is reheated it will liquify again.
Miso paste, what the heck?
This is my last trick and by now you must be thinking that this is some kind of Hungarian-Asian mashup recipe.
I often use a touch of dark miso paste in my soups and stews to add umami, saltiness and “meatiness”. It’s also the secret ingredient in my vegan gumbo.
The key is to not add so much that you can perceive the taste as miso but just enough to give the soup that extra savouriness.
What do you serve Hungarian goulash with?
So once all your veggies have simmered in the pot until tender, your vegan Hungarian goulash is ready to serve!
The vegan goulash I had at Napfényes restaurant was garnished with a sprinkling of parsley and a dollop of soy yogurt. You could also use a vegan sour cream or just serve it straight up.
The best side to serve with goulash is bread. Nothing more!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 fat cloves of garlic (or 3 - 4 small ones), minced
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and small diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and small diced
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
- Optional: a tiny pinch of caraway seeds (I did not add it but many recipes do)
- 6 cups (1.4 litres) vegetable stock or vegan beef stock, divided
- 1 can (14 oz / 400 grams) kidney beans, NOT drained
- 1 ½ teaspoons agar agar powder (see note)
- 1 tablespoon dark miso paste
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Optional garnish: chopped parsley and soy yogurt or vegan sour cream
In a medium pot heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until soft and transparent then add the garlic and fry until fragrant.
Add the potatoes and carrots and sweat until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.
Push the veggies to the side in order to make a space in the middle of the pot and add the tomato paste. Allow to cook, stirring the tomato paste gently with your spoon, for a couple of minutes until it darkens in colour slightly.
Remove the pot from the heat and add the paprika and caraway seeds if using. Stir everything together for a couple of minutes to allow the flavour of the paprika to come out. It’s important to do this off the heat as paprika can burn easily. The heat from the veggies should be enough to bring out the fragrance of the paprika.
Return the pot to the heat and pour in 3 cups (700 ml) of the stock and the entire contents of the can of beans, including the aquafaba (liquid). Raise the heat to bring to a simmer.
In a separate small pot, pour the other 3 cups of the stock and sprinkle in the agar agar, mix well. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring, for about 5 minutes until the stock thickens.
Add the hot thickened stock into your simmering soup and continue simmering until the veggies are tender - about 15 to 20 minutes.
When the soup is ready remove the pot from the heat.
Place the miso paste in a small bowl and add a ladleful of hot stock from the soup. Stir to dissolve the miso paste then pour it into the soup. Taste the soup and add salt and pepper to taste (I added 1 ½ teaspoons salt).
Serve as is or garnished with parsley and a dollop of vegan sour cream.
Note: the agar agar acts as a thickener and I explained it in the post above. It is optional if you don’t want to use it, but recommended. If you have leftovers, the agar will gel your soup in the fridge. This is normal and once the soup is reheated either in the microwave or on the stove it will liquify again.
You can use other root vegetables as well. 2 finely diced Hungarian wax peppers are also a common ingredient you can add if you have them.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 5 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 365Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 911mgCarbohydrates: 53gFiber: 8gSugar: 18gProtein: 16g