Snow-covered grounds welcomed me to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, during the six months I spent living there as a student years ago.
In the weeks that followed, as we discovered the city, there was one dish that warmed us up (in addition to the 50 cent pints of beer) … garlic soup (Česnečka). Salty beef broth simmered with crushed garlic, diced potatoes and topped with bread cubes. So simple and comforting, I often wonder why I’ve never found it on menus here.
And that’s because here in Philadelphia, Czech restaurants currently don’t exist. You’ll have to head to New York for authentic Bohemian fare. There are about a dozen establishments like Zlata Praha and Koliba Restaurant, with the largest concentration located in Queens and Brooklyn.
But while there are no restaurants here, you can get close to Central and Eastern European cuisine by buying it directly. As Beth D’Addono pointed out in her recent Philadelphia Daily News article, “A trip to NetCost Market on Bustleton Avenue is the fastest way to get to Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Uzbekistan and other parts of Slavic Eastern Europe and Central Asia.”
Traditional Czech food is not what you would call light. Authentic dishes include dumplings made from potato flour, boiled in water, sliced and served. Stay with me here — Czechs also love fried cheese (smažený sýr), hearty goulash, and meats like duck, rabbit and lamb. It’s all designed to pair beautifully with a good Czech beer.
So in comparison, this soup is on the lighter side, but I’ve adjusted it over time to act as a meal. Once the garlic flavor has developed in the broth, serve and garnish with a poached egg, small cubes of cheese and/or ham. Czech lore has it that this soup will cure the common cold or a bad hangover – but I think it’s just the perfect dish for a blustery winter evening.
- 6 large cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 T butter
- 4 cups beef broth
- 1 tsp herbes de provence
- 1 large potato, peeled and diced into small cubes
- salt & pepper to taste
- 2 cups large cubes of day-old baguette (or fresh, toasted)
- 2 T fresh parsley, chopped
- Optional – poached eggs, cooked ham, and/or small cubes of parmesan cheese
Heat butter in a large pot and add garlic, sautéing for a minute, being careful not to burn. Add broth. Slowly bring to a boil, reduce heat and keep on a simmer. Add the potatoes, herbes de provence, and continue to simmer, uncovered, till the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add freshly ground black pepper and some more salt if needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with bread cubes, parsley, and preferred toppings.