Assignment 102: Czechia

CZE mapLocation: Central Europe
Population: 10.7 million
Capital: Prague
Geography: A landlocked nation with low mountains and forest
Language: Czech
Signature flavours: Pork, beef, dairy, berries, cabbage, mushroom, plum, cucumber

The Menu

Eric followed up my Austria assignment with neighbour Czechia. When he drew Czechia, he immediately thought of kolace pastries, which he enjoyed when he lived in Texas (where they’re known as “kolaches”). Texas boasts the largest number of Czech-Americans of any state in the US, at nearly 200,000, and as such, is a hotspot for Czech food. Traditional kolace are sweet, but Texan Czechs have created savoury versions too — ham, sausage, and bacon kolace are a popular breakfast food there.

Eric found most of his recipes on Cook Like Czechs, a wonderful English-language food blog started by a Czech woman during the pandemic to give her and her family a project to keep them busy and positive during lockdown.

CZE soup

Studená Borůvková Polévka: A thick blueberry and sour cream soup, served chilled.

Prep and cooking time: 30 min + 3 hours chilling time
Difficulty: 2/5

CZE salat

Okurkuvý Salát: Grated cucumber in a marinade of water, vinegar, salt, pepper, and sugar.

Prep and cooking time: 10 min + 1 hour chilling time
Difficulty: 1/5

CZE latke

Bramborák: Fried potato, egg, milk, and flour patties spiced with garlic, caraway, and marjoram.

Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Difficulty: 2/5

CZE cheese

Smažený Sýr: A thick slab of double-breaded gouda, fried until golden brown, served with  tartar sauce for dipping. This dish is a popular street food in Czechia, and can be also be made with edam.

Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Difficulty: 2/5

CZE mushies

Houbová Smaženice: A fry-up of mushrooms (king, brown and white button, and oyster), onions, and egg, spiced with garlic and cumin. Czechs are famed for their mushroom foraging, and mushroom dishes abound in Czechia.

Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Difficulty: 2/5

CZE kolace

Koláče: Bready sweet pastry topped with fruit preserves. Kolace come in a variety of flavours, from fruit to cream cheese to poppyseed. Eric made prune and apricot.

Prep and cooking time: 6 hours
Difficulty: 3/5

The Shopping List

Everything Eric needed was found at our local supermarket and bulk store. He had a bit of trouble finding edam in the shape he wanted (a rectangle and not a wedge) so he ended up using gouda for the smažený sýr. His mint and parsley garnishes came fresh from our little garden.

CZE berries

The Meal

Eric started cooking the night before our Czech feast and continued as soon as he woke up the next morning. He had koláče dough rising in a big glass bowl and blueberry soup chilling in the fridge before I even ate my breakfast.

Eric warned me ahead of time that he might need help to get everything on the table, since a few of his dishes needed to be served hot, right after frying. I stepped into the kitchen half an hour before dinner time to lend my services as his sous chef, and fried up the bramborák and smažený sýr while Eric plated his other dishes.

CZE plate

The table he laid was beautiful, with jewel-bright koláče in the middle, bowls of purple blueberry soup, steaming mushrooms, and plates of fried cheese — gouda oozing from within a golden brown pillow.

We started with the blueberry soup, and in this way built up to dishes we liked more, since the soup was beautiful to look at, but underwhelming to taste. The taste profile was like a fruit-flavoured sour cream, which could make a lovely summer treat, but in all honesty, we weren’t rushing to fill our bowls with seconds.

Next, we bit into the melty smažený sýr, dipping it liberally into Eric’s homemade tartar sauce. This is a simple yet decadent snack made in heaven — the crispy exterior coating a rich, velvety gouda centre, complemented perfectly by the cool and pickle-y tartar.

The bramborák were just as good, very similar to potato latke or rösti. We ate them plain, dipped in tartar, or piled with eggy, oniony houbová smaženice — another treat for mushroom lovers like us.

The cucumber salad was a surprise to see — it looked more like soup than salad — but drained of its marinade, it was a fantastic, refreshing summer side dish.

Eric enjoyed a cold Pilsner with his meal — the quintessential Czech beer.

CZE making

We ended the meal with the koláče, and Eric regaled me with stories of the koláče he ate in Texas years ago. Cooking for our blog connects us to other people and places and cultures, but often it connects us to past versions of ourselves, and for a moment, eating something that transports us, we can be time travellers.

CZE table

Links
https://www.food.com/recipe/chilled-czech-blueberry-soup-boruvkova-polevka-studena-169532

Czech Cucumber Salad – Okurkový salát

Potato Pancakes – Czech Bramboráky

Breaded Fried Cheese – Czech Smažený sýr

Tartar Sauce – Czech Tatarská omáčka


https://www.toprecepty.cz/recept/2731-houbova-smazenice/https://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/kolache/

Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.

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