Croatian-Style Potato Soup
'Tis the Season For Soup
This cold weather has got me thinking about all the cozy things that I could make in my kitchen. Originally, I thought about making a heart-warming butternut squash soup but when I looked in my root vegetable basket, all that were in there were a bunch of potatoes. When life gives you potatoes, well, I suppose you'd have plenty of options–one of which is a hearty potato soup.
Potatoes play a dominant role in many traditional Eastern European dishes, so I figured I'd take some culinary inspiration from the region, specifically from Croatia, which is located along the coastline of the Adriatic Sea. Some regional twists include the use of paprika, mushrooms, smoked pork, bay leaves, dill and sour cream.
Let's be clear: This is not a refined soup with delicate flavors, like the velvety-smooth French version called vichyssoise. This is a soup that is thick and roughened with a slightly chunky texture. It boldly showcases earthy, smoky and herby flavors. It is humble yet has a lot of character. What can I say, it was created for salt-of-the-earth people.
Here are a few tips: An immersion blender comes in handy to blitz up the soup directly in the pot so that it gets thickened up. If you don't have one, you can whiz it in your blender a few cups at a time until you achieve your desired consistency. Alternatively, you can use a wooden spoon to stir and smash and break up bits of the potatoes into the soup. I didn't want to waste the potato peels, so I saved them and fried them up until crispy to use as a garnish. It adds a step to the process, but if you have a little time on your hands, it makes a lovely addition. And one last note, if you want to make this soup vegetarian or vegan, you can obviously make the appropriate substitutions as suggested in the recipe, I'm confident it will turn out just as delicious!
CROATIAN-STYLE POTATO SOUP
Serves 6 to 8 people
1 medium-sized yellow onion, finely chopped
5 medium-sized Idaho potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and finely diced *reserve potato peels if you want to fry them as garnish
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
8-12 cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 slices of smoked bacon, finely chopped *omit if vegan or vegetarian
1 tablespoon of sweet paprika
1 tablespoon of flour
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter or olive oil, separated
12 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup of chopped dill, plus more for garnish
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Sour cream, for garnish *omit if vegan
1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil in your soup pot over medium heat. Once the butter gets foamy, add the chopped onion. Stir with a wooden spoon so that it gets evenly coated. Cook until softened.
2. Add the smoked bacon to the pot and stir. Let it cook for 5 minutes or so until cooked through. Then, add your carrots and potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. In a separate small pan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and cook the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. When the mushrooms get nice and browned, add them to the soup pot with the other ingredients. *I find that browning the mushrooms separately really enhance their flavor. However, if you want to skip this step and add them in with the carrots and potatoes, that's fine too.
4. Sprinkle the flour and paprika over the vegetables and stir until thoroughly incorporated.
5. Pour the chicken or vegetable stock into the soup pot. Add the bay leaves and dill. Adjust the head to medium-high and give it a good stir. If it starts to boil after a few minutes, lower to a simmer.
6. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the potatoes become soft. Taste and adjust seasonings. *During this time, if you want to make crispy potato skins as a garnish, fry the reserved potato peels in a frying pan with olive oil and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt and paprika. Set them aside until serving.
7. Using an immersion blender, blitz the soup directly in the pot so that it becomes thickened. Alternatively, you can blend the soup in a couple of batches in the blender or smash the potatoes using a wooden spoon.
8. Ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chopped dill–and the crispy potato skins, if using.
*This recipe was published in our local newspaper, The Kaweah Commonwealth.