Hearty Homemade Goulash with Meatballs

The first time I saw the word “goulash” was on a random first date at a Hungarian restaurant, many moons ago. I had never experienced the dish and it wasn’t part of my mom’s cooking repertoire.

Vertical image of a plate with pasta underneath a goulash and meatballs topped with sour cream and herbs, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

The first thing that caught my eye was the name, when I saw it on the menu laid out before me. Next, it was the description, which sounded simple enough – beef, tomato sauce, peppers, and onions.

So I ordered it. And when the steaming plate of beef stew served over egg noodles arrived, I was ever-so-thankful – and not just because I desperately needed something to talk about at that point in the date. The rich aroma and delicious flavor filled me with warmth, from the inside out.

I feel like this might be terrible to say, but to be honest, I don’t remember much from that date. I can barely recall the guy’s face, from all those years ago… But this dish still stands out to me.

Vertical image of a large white bowl filled with goulash and mounds of ground beef on a slate surface.

I ended up only being able to finish half of my plate, and I was looking forward to digging into the leftovers the next day from the moment when I woke up. Since then, I’ve even returned to that Hungarian restaurant on occasion, to get my fill of this traditional recipe, my first introduction to this delicious type of cuisine.

Though the two of us parted after that date with the mutual understanding that we just weren’t meant to be, this recipe, on the other hand, was something that stuck with me for the long haul.

It’s hearty, filling, and so very comforting. And while the Hungarian version is more of a soup or stew, filled with tender beef and onions, and spiced with paprika, I’ve discovered the homestyle American version that many remember as the comfort food of their childhoods is more tomato-heavy, and often served with elbow macaroni.

Vertical top-down image of a tan bowl filled with egg noodles topped with beef in a bell pepper sauce garnished with sour cream and chopped herbs next to a silver spoon.

I gravitate more towards the classic Hungarian style since this is the type that I tried first, but today I’m bringing you these traditional flavors with a bit of a twist. And that twist is meatballs.

The perfectly browned and juicy meatballs are cooked in a delicious tomato-based mixture that simmers and condenses into a thick, richly flavored sauce. And for an option that’s a bit healthier – or if you simply aren’t a fan of red meat – you can even use turkey instead of ground beef.

The paprika gives you a big punch in the mouth in terms of flavor, one that takes me right back to that little Hungarian joint from that random first date back in the day, each and every time I taste it.

Vertical image of a fork holding up a meatball in a bell pepper sauce over a large white bowl with a bowl of noodles in the background.

Now, I love making this dish in the comfort of my own home, so the scent of it simmering on the stove can greet my husband when he arrives home after a long day at work.

In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s one of those recipes that helps me to maintain the title of “Best Wife Ever,” and I know it’ll be a hit at your house too.

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Horizontal image of a tan bowl filled with egg noodles underneath a hearty mound of sauce garnished with a dollop of sour cream and chopped herbs.

Goulash with Meatballs


  • Author: Meghan Yager
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

Easy homemade goulash with ground beef or turkey meatballs is hearty, super comforting, and extra delicious served over egg noodles.


Ingredients

Scale

For the Meatballs:

  • 1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
  • 1/3 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Sauce:

  • 1 medium white onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced (about 1 1/2-2 cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

For Serving:

  • Cooked egg noodles
  • Sour cream
  • Chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. In a medium-size bowl, mix together ground beef or turkey, breadcrumbs, parsley, egg, paprika, salt, pepper, and garlic until well-combined. Form into 25 meatballs with about 1 tablespoon meat mixture each. 
  2. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large skillet and place over medium heat. Once hot, brown meatballs, cooking for about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. 
  3. Return pan to the heat. Add onion and peppers. Cook until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic, cooking for about 30 seconds to 1 minute until fragrant.
  4. Add tomato paste, canned tomatoes with their juices, beef broth, paprika, oregano, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, or until the sauce is reduced by about one-third.
  5. Add meatballs back to the pan, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through and sauce has thickened to your liking. 
  6. Serve over egg noodles with sour cream and freshly chopped parsley.
  • Category: Meatballs
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Hungarian

Keywords: goulash, meatball, ground turkey, ground beef, egg noodle, Hungarian

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Chop Parsley, Prepare Vegetables, and Measure Remaining Ingredients

Horizontal image of prepped ingredients in glass bowls and a bowl of raw ground beef on a gray surface.

Chop enough fresh parsley leaves until you have 2 tablespoons total.

Peel and mince four cloves of garlic. You will need two cloves for the meatballs, and two more for the sauce.

Peel and dice a medium-sized white onion. You should have about 1 cup total.

For this recipe, I like to use red, orange, or yellow bell peppers. Remove the stems and seeds, and slice them. You will end up with about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of sliced peppers, depending on their size.

Horizontal image of prepped vegetables and seasonings in small glass bowls.

Measure the rest of the ingredients as listed on the ingredients list. For the lean ground beef, I recommend using meat that is 85 to 90% lean.

Be sure to select a large skillet with a lid for cooking.

Step 2 – Make Meatballs

Horizontal image of a seasoned ground beef mixture in a bowl.

Add the ground beef of turkey, breadcrumbs, parsley, egg, paprika, salt, pepper, and two minced cloves of garlic to a bowl, and mix gently until combined. I prefer to use my hands, but you can also use a spoon.

Horizontal image of mounds of seasoned raw beef on a dark blue plate.

Using about 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture each, form into balls. You will end up with about 25 meatballs total.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the meatballs.

Horizontal image of cooking meatballs in a greased skillet.

Brown them on all sides. This will take about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Step 3 – Make Sauce

Horizontal image of cooking sliced yellow and red bell peppers with aromatics in a skillet.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the onions and peppers. Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened.

Add the garlic, stir, and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until fragrant. Don’t let the garlic brown.

Horizontal image of a cooked sauce of stewed tomatoes and bell peppers.

Stir in the tomato paste, canned tomatoes with their liquid, broth, paprika, oregano, salt, and pepper, until well combined.

Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, until the sauce has reduced by about one-third.

Step 4 – Finish and Serve

Horizontal image of a steaming pot of tomato and bell pepper sauce mixed with mounds of ground beef.

Add the meatballs back to the pan and cover with a lid. Simmer for about 30 minutes over low heat, or until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce has thickened to your liking.

For me, this is reduced by about half from where I started. It should be nice and thick.

Horizontal image of a tan bowl filled with egg noodles underneath a hearty mound of sauce garnished with a dollop of sour cream and chopped herbs.

Serve over egg noodles with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley.

Can I Make This Meal Ahead of Time?

If you are prepping this meal ahead of time, the good news is that the longer it sits, the more flavorful this dish gets. My favorite way to eat it is as leftovers the next day, after it’s been cooked, cooled, and chilled overnight in the fridge.

Horizontal image of a large white bowl filled with a bell pepper sauce and mounds of ground beef on a slate surface.

But my second-favorite way to prep it for easy weeknight meal assembly is to make and freeze the meatballs in advance, stopping just before making the sauce. Make sure the meatballs are completely cooked through, instead of just searing them, if you’re doing advance prep.

The day before you’re ready to eat, thaw them in the fridge overnight. Proceed with the recipe, and pop the meatballs in the simmering sauce at the appropriate time as the recipe indicates, to warm them through.

In the mood for even more protein-centric comfort food classics? Check out these recipes next:

Are you more familiar with American or Hungarian-style goulash? Tell us in the comments below. And once you try the recipe, be sure to come back and give it a five-star rating if you loved it!

Photos by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on January 1, 2015. Last updated on March 29, 2021. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Meghan Yager

Meghan Yager is a food addict turned food and travel writer with a love for creating uncomplicated, gourmet recipes and devouring anything the world serves up. As the author of the food and travel blog Cake 'n Knife, Meghan focuses on unique foodie experiences from around the world to right at home in your own kitchen.

21 thoughts on “Hearty Homemade Goulash with Meatballs”

  1. I had no idea it was this easy to make meatballs, i have always wondered and asked around but i think no one had a clue, glad to have found the super secret recipe, you can bet that am going to experiment on making them one of these fine days, just crossing my fingers i succeed at it 😉

    Reply
  2. Thank you so much Lynne! If you have not read my previous comments on the Stuffed French Toast and Chicken Mac N Cheese recipes yet, I have been searching for something special to do for my husband. His 39th birthday is this weekend and he has been sick with a horrible cold. So, he’ll be stuck in bed all day on he’s birthday. When I saw the Stuffed French Toast recipe I knew right away that a great present for him would be breakfast in bed. Then I continued to browse your recipes and found your Chicken Mac N Cheese. I thought to myself, ‘he’s going be stuck in bed all day, why not make him dinner as well!’ I now, I found his lunch entree. His birthday breakfast, lunch and dinner in bed menu is complete thanks to you!!!

    Reply
  3. Ah I remember eating goulash on the streets of Budapest a few months ago. Delicious AND cheap and filling. I’ve never thought about eating it with pasta though, so this is interesting.

    Reply
  4. The Hungarian goulash I tasted contained paprika so was a lot spicier than this recipe seems to be. I’d never thought to serve it with pasta before either.

    Reply
  5. I remember eating this exact dish when I was a kid! My family was comprised of 5 kids, so my mother did not have that much time to cook amongst other chores such as cleaning or taking care of us. She always cooked pasta with meatballs and this sauce. It tasted delicious for the time it took to prepare it!

    Reply
  6. This looks delicious! I normally like meatballs, but I always eat them as a stand alone, and never a part of my pastas. I don’t know why I don’t want to mix these two. I just love to eat them separately.
    Anyhow, the picture is again amazing. It keeps whispering for me to ditch my twirl or elbow pastas in favor of penne pasta.

    Reply
  7. Imrpessive. You could substitute your penne pasta for something that slides well like spaghetti or lenguini. I bet the turkey meatballs taste great though.

    Reply
  8. This looks like a great way to use all my leftover turkey from Christmas! Canned tomatoes and dried herbs are easily available all year round, so there’s nothing that’s hard to obtain during the winter season.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  9. This looks great! Growing up my mother used to make goulash with shredded leftover beef and tons of ketchup as her secret ingredient. She would literally pour three entire squeeze bottles of ketchup into her sauce mixture and let it simmer on the stove for hours! I can’t wait to try this recipe to see how a more mainstream version of goulash compares to my grandmother’s recipe! To be honest it will probably pale in comparison to my childhood memories, but this simpler version will be great for my family on a busy night! I’m sure it will be a lot healthier after omitting all the sugar and preservatives that ketchup has in it as well!

    Reply
  10. I think I would try something like this with chicken, but probably not turkey. I have been generally disappointed with the flavor of things that traditionally have red meat when turkey is substituted.

    Reply
  11. This looks delicious!!!! I generally eat meatballs with spaghetti, however, I also enjoy them as a sandwich. It has been quite some time since I’ve made my own meatballs since the grocery stores make it so easy to pick up a bag of prepared meatballs for you. After seeing your recipe and how easy it is, I am definitely going back to making my own….mmmm perhaps this will be tomorrows dinner.

    Reply
  12. I’ve always hated goulash, but that’s because I’ve never ate one like this – with pasta, meatbals and tomatoes!
    Those photos made my mouth water 🙂 I also like that it’s looking easy to prepare.

    Reply
  13. This recipe looks like something i ate while in Manchester over the holidays. I love pasta a lot but i’m kind of allergic to meat. I’ll try it out but with soya to replace meat.

    Reply
  14. I would love to have something like this for dinner. The idea of using turkey is cool. It’s a great change of pace to eating beef. This would also be a good alternative for those who don’t eat beef anyway. Now I have another recipe to try out for sure.

    Reply
  15. I’m glad this recipe is short and easy to follow. I often times have trouble if it becomes too complex. My only concern is that I’m not sure that I’m too keen on the type of pasta you chose to use. I might substitute it for angel hair or maybe rotini. Other than that it looks perfect.

    Reply
  16. im so open to turkey meatballs, I bet they are great. I’m more of a spaghetti person though. I don’t know when I’ll try cooking different types of pastas.

    Reply
  17. We make a way different variation in my family. It’s made with rice, tomato sauce, kidney beans, onions/peppers and ground beef all mixed up together. It’s an awesome unusual dish. Everyone always asks my mom for the recipe. I had this same pasta dish for dinner last night that you have pictured. It’s such a filling and satisfying meal. I never knew this was called Goulash also. I always called this dish American chop suey, Bolognese sauce with pasta or Meatballs and pasta. I learned something new today!

    Reply
  18. My aunt recently got ahold of this recipe, and made it for dinner last sunday while we were visiting. This was THE BEST goulash we have ever had! I actually snagged the recipe from here, and I’m sure i’ll be making it again. Tastes way better with the turkey meatballs, rather than the beef ones.

    Reply
  19. This is not like the goulash I know. There are no tomatoes. The onions are cooked until they are very brown. Slow cooked shin beef, caraway seeds for the anisole flavour and heat. Paprika for flavour. Beef stock. Pinch noodles. Add some sour cream if you wish

    Reply

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