Cure Your Cold with this Czech Garlic Soup (česnečka)
I know what you’re thinking, garlic soup isn’t the sexiest recipe that comes to mind, and in all honesty, you probably shouldn't eat it before going on a hot date, but if you’re looking for an easy to make, delicious soup that also happens to boost the immune system, then I’ve got the perfect recipe for you.
Garlic has been praised for centuries not only as a flavorful aromatic, but also as a treatment for a variety of illnesses. Garlic can be used to treat everything from diabetes, to earaches, high cholesterol to heart disease. Research has also shown that garlic’s antioxidant properties can be used to prevent a variety of cancers including colon and breast cancer. These health benefits are thanks to garlic’s unique antibacterial compound called allicin. However, most of the health benefits of garlic can only be obtained by consuming it in its raw forms. My favorite way to eat raw garlic is minced and mixed with a good olive oil and spread on toast. Garlic is such a powerful supplement that it may even be better for treating the common cold than chicken soup!
Garlic soup has recently been gaining popularity among health bloggers and even gourmet food magazines. An article by Bon Appetit calls the soup, a “terrestrial vegan dashi with incredibly deep umami flavor”. While folks in the West seem to just be discovering the power of the mighty garlic, Czech’s have been enjoying the benefits of garlic for centuries. One of the most popular ways to enjoy garlic in the Czech Republic is in garlic soup. Soups in general are a very important piece of Czech culinary culture, and are most commonly enjoyed at lunch. An important part of Czech tradition is to enjoy a hearty “poledni” lunch (also known as the ‘menu of the day’). Poledni lunches are cheap, filling, and often pre-batched so they can be quickly served. Soup is almost always offered as the course before the main dish. There’s dill soup, pumpkin soup, beet soup, and classic goulash, but my favorite is definitely garlic soup.
The best part about česnečka is that it’s one of the easiest recipes in the Czech kitchen. You have most of the ingredients already in your home, and it’s faster than any delivery service. Let’s face it, when you’re sick with the flu you don't want to be slaving over a hot stove for long, and if the world looks like its coming down outside, you don't want to trudge through the snow to grab takeout.
It’s the kind of recipe that can be adapted as a side dish, first course, or entrée with enough creativity. Try adding white beans and kale for a vegetarian meal, or small veal meatballs for a hearty winter dinner. Serve česnečka alongside a roasted veggie salad, or next to a pastrami sandwich.
The original recipe I followed says to mince a bulb of garlic with a knife, but I suggest using a garlic press to make the processes easier and make the garlic more pungent. If you’re suffering from a cold or are a fan of spice, add a few chili flakes or cayenne to bump up the heat. It’s also important that you cut your potatoes into the same size so they cook evenly. My version is completely vegan, but this recipe would be deeply satisfying using chicken stock or even bone broth. Whichever base you prefer, try using homemade stock instead of store bought broth or bouillon.
2 slices of rustic bread, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large bulb of garlic, crushed using a garlic press
4 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
1 large yellow potato, cubed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chili flakes or cayenne pepper (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
For croutons: add bread cubes, olive oil, marjoram, garlic powder, salt and pepper to a bowl and toss to coat bread pieces evenly.
Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the croutons are golden brown.
For soup: While the croutons are baking, melt butter over medium heat and sauté onion until translucent.
Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. If necessary, add more olive oil or garlic as to prevent the aromatics from burning.
Add salt and pepper, and if using, add chili flakes or cayenne.
Stir in stock and bring to a gentle boil.
Add potato and reduce heat too low. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.
Serve soup hot with the topping of croutons.