Thursday, October 17, 2019

Česnečka (Czech Garlic Soup aka Hangover Soup)

After visiting Prague recently I became very intrigued by Czech cooking. Some Czech recipes have roots in other Central European cuisines, such as German, Austrian, or Hungarian, but others truly have a uniquely Czech spin on them. While a lot of Czech food is rustic, rich, and not very glamorous, the flavors are quite delicious and I'm excited to create some Czech recipes of my own in the coming months.

This past weekend I felt myself coming down with a cold. Boo! During my visit to Prague I had heard of a Czech garlic soup called Česnečka aka "hangover soup" which is laden with garlic and is considered a fix for other ailments including the common cold. The timing couldn't be more perfect! Garlic has proven antibiotic and antiviral properties, so it makes sense that a soup enriched with loads and loads of garlic would be a great cold remedy. And also, it keeps the vampires away (Halloween's approaching y'all--better safe than sorry!).

I researched Česnečka and noted it is an extremely straight-forward dish with ingredients that most people may already have in their refrigerator and pantry. I only had to purchase rye bread for the croutons, but had everything else on hand. Most recipes are nearly identical since it's quite a basic soup, but there are some variances. From my research I would say that chopped onions are not typical, but some people add them anyway (I didn't). Typically, the soup is served with rye bread croutons, and often includes some cubed or shredded cheese which melts and modifies the flavor and texture of the soup. Also, a beaten egg is added in more classic recipes, yielding ribbons of egg similar to a Chinese egg drop soup.

In my rendition, I stuck with much of the classic components. Initially I served a couple bowls of soup sans egg and cheese, but the following day reheated the leftover soup on the stove top and stirred in half a beaten egg, and served it with a bit of cheese in the bowl for comparison (the photos represent the batch with beaten egg added). Honestly, both versions are equally delicious in my opinion. In the recipe below I've noted the egg and cheese are both optional, as they are not necessary but both add a bit of extra flavor, texture, and protein.

The soup itself of quite garlicky and incredibly satisfying and comforting, especially when one is battling a cold or hangover (though the latter is luckily something I haven't experienced in years!). I really fell in love with this garlic-bomb of a soup, its ease of preparation, and the comfort it provides. I plan to add it to my winter arsenal as I know there will be more sniffles and sneezes in the coming months. It's so delicious even if you're not sick, so seriously give it a try!

Česnečka (Czech Garlic Soup aka Hangover Soup)
Serves 4 to 5

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 to 8 cloves garlic, crushed (you can use even more, if you'd like!)
6 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable broth or stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound (about 2 medium to large) waxy potatoes (white, yellow, or red--not russets), peeled and diced
1 teaspoon dried marjoram (try dried oregano if you don't have marjoram)
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 egg, beaten (optional)
3 ounces (3 to 4 slices) rye bread, cubed
1 teaspoon olive oil or olive oil spray
4 ounces cubed cheese (Emmental, Gruyere, or Camembert--rind removed) (optional)
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Melt the butter in a medium pan over medium heat, and add the garlic. Cook until softened and aromatic, about 4 to 5 minutes (lower the heat if it starts to brown). Add the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. When boiling, season with salt and pepper, then add the diced potatoes, marjoram, and caraway seeds. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Adjust seasoning as needed. If you are adding an egg, pour it in slowly while mixing the soup to create ribbons of cooked egg (similar to Chinese egg drop soup).

Meanwhile, heat an oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees F. Add the cubed rye bread to a small sheet pan and either drizzle with olive oil or spray with olive oil spray, and toss with your hands to coat. Toast for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crispy. Set aside until soup is done.

Serve the soup topped with croutons and parsley, and if desired stir in some cheese (or put the cheese in the bowl first and then pour the soup on top). Serve immediately.


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