From toddler to post-teen, I spent oodles and oodles of time in Spain. No – to my shame – I never mastered the language and no, I never developed an ability to tan. Pale Irish skin and auburn hair meant the most I could manage was a light beige after months (and months) in the sun. I resented my parents so much – I was convinced that if I could only go to the local caravan park like some of my pals I would be golden brown…
Why all this time on the Costa? Many of Dad’s business interests were in the area. Well, in the area is stretching the imagination. If he brought us with him, it meant wrenching us away from our house on the beach, strapping us into the car, ordering us not to speak to one another (as one word could always erupt into a fight) and making us endure what has never been surpassed as ‘the’ most excruciating journey. Miles and miles travelled in a hot car with no air conditioning in sweltering heat with a child (me) who got car sick on a level only equalled by the the girl in the Exorcist.
This was no ordinary trip. It involved dirt tracks and winding around hairpin bends until we reached the top of a mountain. There we would alight from a hot car into blistering heat with no breeze and among us, a child (me) who reeked of stale ‘parmesan’. Happy days – not!
Spanish food is still a firm favourite but Spain is also where I was first introduced to Goulash. Near where we lived was a restaurant called ‘El Conejo Loco’ (the mad rabbit) run by a Hungarian beauty and her frequently inebriated Spanish husband. There were many heated exchanges between the two and pots full of drama. To a child, it seemed funny but when I look back, we dined regularly in the middle of a never-ending domestic war. She would hold the balance, smile at the guests while he swiped bottles of brandy and reverted back into the kitchen where he would roar demands, laugh loudly and cook brilliantly. Except for one dish. That was her domain. She made Goulash like her mother made and it was divine.
While others gazed at perfectly cooked Gambas (and they stared back with their beedy little eyes), I would tuck into a plate of Goulash served with noodles and a dollop of sour cream. It was simply the best thing ever. I always wish I had got the recipe but I was precocious enough without stalking elders to ask for recipes too.
Now, when winter sets in, Goulash is made and served exactly as all those years ago. It will never equal that lady’s but it is definitely a firm favourite in our home. It is meant to contain beer but I leave it out – mainly because I like to drink rather than eat the stuff! Here’s the recipe I cook and it is one of those wonderful dishes which indeed tastes better the day after.
1½ lb rib steak, cubed
3 level tablespoons flour
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
1 red pepper, seeds removed and sliced
2 level teaspoons Paprika
3 level tablespoons good quality tomato puree
Nutmeg, a pinch freshly grated
Salt and pepper
2 ounces plain flour
½ pint beef stock
1 tin chopped tomatoes
¼ pint of ale (optional)
1 Bouquet Garni
Oil for frying
1. Pre-heat the oven at 160c
2. Place the 3 tablespoons of flour on a plate. Season with salt and pepper
3. Toss the beef pieces in the flour
4. Fry the onion and pepper in the oil until soft for about 3-4 minutes
5. Add the meat and fry for about five minutes until golden brown
6. Add the paprika and fry for another minute
7. Reduce the heat
8. Add the tomato puree, nutmeg and flour and cook for another couple of minutes
9. When the flour is cooked, gently add the stock and mix, making sure to eliminate any lumps
10. Add the tin of tomatoes
11. Season with salt and pepper
12. Transfer to a casserole dish
13. Add Bouquet Garni
14. Cook slowly for about 1½ hours
15. Remove the Bouquet Garni and add the beer
16. Leave stand for about 15 minutes
17. Serve with noodles and sour cream. Alternatively, it can be served with mashed potato.