Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Czech Carrot Ginger Soup

I spent the first semester of my senior undergraduate studies abroad. It is an experience I wish onto everyone. It was a fabulous semester where I met amazing people, learned a new language, ate things I never considered before, and truly grew wiser as a person-- as well as girth. Most people have heard of the freshman 15 (where one has the tendency to gain 15 lbs their first year of college). I lost it. I lost a lot more than 15. But I gained 15 back when I spent my semester abroad.

Throughout my first three years of school I knew I wanted to study abroad. But where? France would allow me to brush up what French I had forgotten from high school. London was... well, too easy, I could already speak the language. And then there was Prague: A mythical city that I knew little about. I had some Czech blood in me. I would be close to Latvia, an opportunity to visit some relatives I had never met. And well, it was an unknown.

Prague is a fairytale city built on a hill, complete with two castles to call home. A light mist encircles the city at most hours, cobblestone streets greet walkers, and architecture-- amazing architecture, from gothic to art nouveau to modern to rustic is everywhere. Art is everywhere. The city is breathtaking. The people are amazingly friendly (especially for a country that has had the short end of the stick for so long). The food is fabulous. The beer is the best. And there are hidden treasures for the right kind of explorer.

I met some of my best friends in Prague. It was with these new friends (some American and some local Czechs) that I explored the city. And Prague is a city for youth. It is friendly monetarily for the student (we were eating 4 course meals for $10 and drinking some of the best beer (ehem, pivo) we had ever had for $0.25!-—which might not be the best thing for a student to have access to and making it all the easier to gain 15lbs.) There is a current that hits the student, the traveler, the explorer, keeping one out on the prowl at all hour-- it can be more entrancing than New York.

It was in Prague that I broke my 6 years as a vegetarian. I arrived and was offered (more or less) to eat tomatoes, cucumber and fried cheese for 4 months, or dine on wild rosemary boar, cheese infused kielbasa, goulash with bread dumplings, chicken stuffed with ham and cheese… I thought I should take advantage of the situation. I happily broke my meat fast with bacon-crusted lamb (though my stomach did not forgive me for a while).

There were few restaurants that we could recall the actual name of. We were taking Czech language classes, could read signs, and understand what we ordered (most of the time). More often we called an establishment by the beer they served. Our local favorites included Velvet (mm their goulash!), Staropramen, Gambrinus, Rebel, Radegast, Kelt (with the above mentioned wild boar), Krušovice…

There were two restaurants we could recall the names of. One was U Homera or “At Homer’s”. Rather, “at Homer Simpson’s,” where one could order the Milhousova or Margini Syr and other foods based on characters from the popular television show. There was also Portabella Roads. Remembered because it had an English sign out front— and it was across the street from our favorite breakfast place: “Bernard”-- where we dined on “ghost fingers” and drank Bernard Dark).

It was here, at Portabella Roads that I had carrot soup. Amongst countless delicious items (we went there weekly) it was the carrot soup that was ordered religiously. Sweet, buttery, and succulent, it would have been perfect as a meal on its own (but we were gluttonous students amazed at how far our dollar traveled).

It was the fall semester I spent in Prague. It would have been around this time that I made my post-semester travel plans, packed my things and said naschledanou to my fellow students. And it is now that I miss that carrot soup. I long to descend into the hidden Portabella Roads and enjoy the warm buttery soup with a cold beer. I long to return to my fairyland and walk the cobblestone streets to visit Kafka’s house up at the castle, walk the Charles Bridge into the old section, back to the secret garden T and I found, visit Frank at the old castle, and gaze at Shiele’s originals. I would head out to the Bone Church in Cesky Krumluv to marvel at the structure or visit B’s family in the south. This country is a marvel to have been part of. To be there is to be touched by legend. Now, I am a little closer; though miss it all the more with this carrot ginger soup.

I came up with this recipe on my own, hoping to mimic the simplicity of what was had in the Czech Republic. To reach the original, I think less to no ginger would be appropriate (but it is pretty darn good with the ginger). Also, the original soup probably had more butter-- but I lost those 15lbs I gained and don’t really desire their return. So here is my version of my Czech favorite (best if served with an ice cold, 25 cent, Krušovice.

Serves 4. Prep time= 10 min. Cook time= 30 min.
3 Tbl butter
2 lbs carrot, sliced
3 shallots, whites only, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 Tbl fresh ginger, crushed
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1-1⁄2 Tbl thyme
1⁄4 cup fresh parsley
1 pint cup heavy cream
4 cup low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
salt/ pepper to taste

1) Melt the butter over medium heat in a soup pot. Add shallots, onions, garlic and ginger. Sauté for 5-10 min until onions soften and smell filters into home.
2) Add carrots, thyme, fresh pepper to taste, and broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and remove lid slightly. Cook until carrots are soft.
3) Once carrots are soft, remove from heat, add parsley. Using a handheld blender , puree the soup (or use a regular blender and puree in batches). Add cream and stir. Add salt to taste.

NOTE: You can add water to thin soup out to desired consistency. Also, be warned your new kitten may attempt to attack your soup. He thinks the ginger smell is alive.

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