Thursday, January 17, 2013

Recipes from the Czech Republic

I have a new look! And I'm still tweaking it, so bear with me. It's really still a long way from perfect. But cool, huh? I was really tired of the old template.

Anyway this week is all about caraway seeds. Because Czechs, as you probably were not aware, love caraway seeds, and they put them in everything.

Which means of course that our country d'jour is the Czech Republic. Not Czechoslovakia, which is what they used to call it when I was a kid. Back in the early 90s after communism did its big nose dive, the old country was divided into two: the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic (which evidently also likes caraway seeds).

Despite its communist heritage, today's Czech Republic is actually quite prosperous, in fact it is the second-richest country in Eastern Europe with a GDP per capita that is roughly similar to that enjoyed by the Portugese.

Prague, Czech Republic. Photo Credit: [ changó ] via Compfight cc

A few fun facts about the Czech Republic: it has more than 2,000 castles, keeps and ruins, which gives it the highest density of such sites of any nation in the world (and automatically makes it a place where I want to go, because I love old castles). It has the fifth highest ranking in the world for freedom of the press, and its people are the world's heaviest consumers of beer.

The Czech Republic is actually famous for its pastries, which I didn't do (that old New Year's Resolution about eating healthy), and of course its beer. In less abundant times, meat was only consumed once a week, though today it is much more popular. For my menu I chose a set of traditional recipes which are typically served together, often in restaurants. Here they are:

Vepřová Pečene (Roast Pork)
(These recipes are all from My Prague Sights)
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 tbs prepared mustard
  • 2 tbs caraway seeds
  • 1 tbs garlic powder
  • 1 tbs salt*
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 lbs pork roast
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup beer (or water)
  • 1 tbs cornstarch
  • 2 tbs butter
*Czech dishes tend to be salty, so adjust this amount according to how much salt you personally prefer.

Served with:

Houskové Knedlíky (Yeast Dumplings)

  • 1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cubed bread roll

Zeli (Simple Sauerkraut)

  • 4 slices bacon, sliced into small strips
  • 1 lb sauerkraut (with juice)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 2 tsp cold water
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • sugar and vinegar to taste
Starting with the pork: first make a marinade out of the oil, mustard, caraway seeds, garlic powder and salt and pepper. Rub the pork all over with this mixture and refrigerate for 45 minutes.

Now preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Place the chopped onions in a layer on the bottom of the roasting pan and add the beer or water (the only beer I had was Guinness, which really isn't very Czech, so I just went with water). Now put the roast on top of the onions and cover loosely with foil.

Roast until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, turning once (the USDA recently declared this to be pork's new safe internal temperature, down fro a long-time standard of 160). Let rest for 10 minutes.
Transfer the juices from the roasting pan into a saucepan and add the cornstarch and butter. Simmer until thick and serve over the sliced meat.

Meanwhile, make the dumplings:

I used my bread machine, of course, because I'm way too lazy to do things the old-fashioned way. But here are the non-bread machine instructions:

Dissolve the yeast in the water and add the sugar. Meanwhile, mix the flour, salt, egg and cubed bread roll in a large bowl. When the yeast is frothy, add it to the bowl and mix well. Knead for 10 minutes. Separate the dough into four rolls and then cover and let rise in a warm place for an hour or so.

Now boil some salted water and add one or two of the rolls to the pot. Cover and let boil for about 20 minutes. When finished, the dumplings should be very light and fluffy (mine were not!)

Decidedly un-fluffy dumplings.

OK now for the sauerkraut, which was the simplest recipe of the three:

First fry up the bacon and set aside. Now add the onion to the pan with some butter and saute until translucent. Add the sauerkraut and simmer until tender. Return the bacon to the pan and season with the salt, pepper and the ubiquitous caraway seeds.

Now combine the cornstarch with water and add to the sauerkraut. Cook for a few more minutes, then remove from heat and add sugar and vinegar to taste.

So, something went terribly wrong with my dumplings. OK I know exactly what it was, it was the fact that I didn't leave enough time in my day to make them. They didn't rise long enough, and I'm not even sure that they cooked long enough, so instead of "light and fluffy" as the recipe described, they were "dense and un-fluffy." Sigh.

The pork was really good though, it came out perfectly and was very juicy and flavorful. The caraway seeds did give it a very, um, caraway-y flavor, which you may love or hate. Personally, I was a little put off by them and I did scrape quite a few of them off of my meat. I liked the flavor, but it is a little overpowering in those quantities.

The sauerkraut was good, I mean, as good as sauerkraut can be. I'm not personally that crazy about it under the best of circumstances, but Dylan loves it. Which is really odd for a 7-year-old, but I do have odd kids.

So there you go, the Czech Republic. Have you ever had food from that part of the world? Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought!

Next week: Denmark

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


  1. Hi, Becki. Robin from Iowa again. I'm part Czech and I've never had a light and fluffy Czech dumpling. They are supposed to be dense. My family loved this meal. Well, my sons didn't like the sauerkraut, but my in laws did! We're starting to do two meals a week, so we might catch up with you one of these days!

  2. Oh, whew! The original recipe said "light and puffy," but maybe that's just by Czech standards, haha. Glad to hear I got it right and I love to hear what my readers do with these recipes. Keep posting!

  3. Oh and I'm hugely impressed that you can do two of these meals a week. I think that would just about kill me. :)

  4. Hi, Becki! I'm a Czech and let me assure you that I hate caraway seeds with all my heart :D Luckily it's no trouble to avoid it. Anyways those dumplings really should be light and fluffy and not just by Czech standards. Would give you some advice but our family does a different type altogether and I never prepared yeast dumplings myself. Never saw that recipe for sauerkraut and highly doubt that anyone doest it like that. The pork roast... Well again never saw or tasted one like that. Maybe you could give Czech cuisine another go :) I think that it has a bad reputation but that just the Communist days when there was not much to cook from and people had to keep it real simple and functional. The real traditional Czech cuisine is actually influenced by French cuisine and that's never a bad thing :)

  5. If you could send me a few recipes, I would love to do The Czech Republic over again! That's the eternal problem I have with this project, I never know which sites really have authentic recipes. It's always better to get recipes from people who live or are from these places, but that's not always an easy task. If you want, you can use the contact form on this page to email me directly. Thanks!


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