I had a young man, a friend of my son, ask me “What’s the difference?” along with several other questions regarding soups, stews, and goulashes.
They are all really quite easy to make. They are a great way to use up and revamp leftovers or simply to extend a small amount of ingredients into a much larger meal.
They can all be quite nutritious and filling, and be used for a whole meal, an appetizer, or as a side dish. They can have the exact same ingredients yet be very different. How so?
I guess the easiest way to explain the difference is in the amount of liquid they contain. There is a far greater amount of liquid for a soup, less for a stew, and very little for a goulash. The liquid can be thin or thick. It can be a broth, a gravy, a cheese sauce, a cream sauce, a puree, tomato based, meat or vegetable, or a combination.
What is a goulash? Most young people today I believe use the term “hamburger helper” which seems to have become a generic household term for goulash following the widespread use of those purchased boxed mixes where you just add a pound of meat and some liquid.
Although, goulash (as well as soups and stews) can be made with any kind of meat whether it is ground beef or not — such as chicken, turkey, sausage (ground or link), pork, beef, game meats, or even seafood. It can also be ground, diced, sliced, shredded, or chipped.
Goulash (or hamburger helper if you prefer) just has less liquid, often thicker and more sauce or gravy-like than a stew or soup.
Soups, stews, and goulashes are the — “everything but the kitchen sink” and “just throw it together and you are all set to go” — kings and queens of the kitchen.
You don’t even have to have a recipe! Nor do they require a boxed mix full of preservatives, too much salt, MSG, artificial flavors and colorings, or other added chemicals or compounds that you can’t even pronounce.
They can be seasoned simply with a little salt and pepper or you can use a “sky’s the limit” approach and toss in all sorts of different seasonings. Simply taste test and add a little more at a time until it tastes good!
If you don’t have any broth, cream, sour cream, milk, tomato sauce, etc. you can just add a little water and simmer it for a longer period until it actually forms its own broth from whatever medley of vegetables and/or meat is being used.
If desired, you can add pasta, rice, quinoa, barley, dumplings — or not.
There are no hard and fast set rules!
Yes, you can use a recipe and there are some wonderful traditional and standard types of soups, stews, and goulashes. However, you can also just throw some things together and use whatever you have on hand!
Have you ever heard the story about nail soup?
There is a poor village and no one has enough food nor any desire to share. A beggar shows up one day. When no one will share any food, the beggar takes a pot and hangs it over a fire, fills it with water, then tosses in a nail and just starts stirring.
Hungry and curious everybody in the village comes over to ask what is being made. The beggar says, “I’m making nail soup. It’s very nutritious and has lots of iron for strength and vitality!”, then takes a sip, and says, “Mm-mm, it’s good but there is just something missing!”
Somebody from the village says, “It needs an onion!” and somebody else says “It needs some garlic to give it extra flavor!” The first cries out, “I’ll give you half of my onion if you promise to give me a bowl when its done!” The second cries out, “And I’ll give you a clove or two from my head of garlic for a bowl!” Then, a third villager cries out, “I have some salt! For a bowl I’d be willing to give you a little!”
Suddenly, all of the villagers start offering up just a small portion of each of their meager food items for the simple promise of being given a bowl to eat. Some offer up a portion of root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, or turnips. Others offer a portion of assorted meats, sausages, or game. Others offer up tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, peppers and leaks. Some offer up grains such as just a handful of rice and barley. The more items added the better and better that soup began to smell!
When it was done, the beggar carefully fished out then pocketed the nail. “I’ll need to keep this if I’m to make a new pot later!” The beggar then began to feed all of the hungry villagers. Each said it was the best tasting soup they’d ever had.
Not only did they all have a bowl of tasty soup, but there was enough for the whole village to eat a second bowl, so they all ate very well indeed! There was even a bit left over — which the beggar told them that if they simply kept it simmering (they didn’t have refrigerators back then) and add water whenever needed, they could add just a few more food items to it the next day, and every day after, and never go hungry again.
There was a time when only the very rich or royals were taught to read or write. Other people told stories instead. Basically, this story was the first recipe passed along for how to make soup!
Although, of course, the iron nail was just a trick to get everyone to contribute something to the pot. Or was it?
Nails are no longer made of iron, which would easily rust and could pass along germs such as those which cause tetanus if stepped on, nor would you want one in your soup for obvious safety reasons. However, there is something to be said for cooking in much safer cast iron pots and skillets! They actually do add more iron to foods cooked in them — helping to reduce iron deficiency anemia which can leave you feeling tired, weak, and run down– thus increasing strength and vitality!
TIP: Save those tiny bits of left over soups and stews or goulash (in the freezer) and add them to future soups and stews! Not only will that prevent wasting it, but it will also help add more flavor to your next batch!
- 2 lbs vegetables and/or cooked meat or poultry finely diced or shredded (or pureed)
- 2 cans broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup choice: half n half, cream, milk, evaporated milk, sour cream, yogurt
- 1 onion chopped
- salt and pepper or other spices and herbs, to taste
- grated cheese and/or bacon crumbles or sprigs of garden herbs, as topping for individual servings
Add vegetables, pre-cooked meat or poultry if desired, onion, water and broth to a large 4 to 6 quart Dutch oven pot and add 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes stirring frequently then taste and season as desired. Continue to simmer and season until it tastes good.
Once seasoned as desired and has reduced to desired consistency or additional liquid added if desired simply stir in dairy of choice. Simmer 3 to ten minutes more.
Serve if desired topped with fresh sprigs of your favorite herb, shredded cheese, and/or bacon crumbles.