This is a soup that’s especially hard to describe how good it is. The flavor profiles come together into an overall smooth, comforting, delicious result. This soup makes you think of how generations of people, surviving in a northern climate, produce a cuisine that gives much-needed warmth, comfort, and fuel to make it through the day.
During our visit to Poland in December, we experienced a whole new kind of cold. Snow and ice covered the ground, skies were dark gray, and the cold air bit through layers of clothing to freeze your bones. Still, it was funny, all the locals we encountered were so nice and happy. Their attitudes definitely took the edge off the cold, and it really wasn’t possible to complain about the weather around people enjoying life like that. Who knows, maybe it’s their Żurek soup that gives them the strength to stay positive.
We can highly recommend this soup with a Seinfeld reference: Żurek, a soup that counts as a meal.
Please note that you need to start 5 days in advance for the sour rye starter.
Żurek Soup Recipe
For the Sour Rye Starter:
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup 110 g medium or dark rye flour spooned and leveled
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 allspice berries
- 15 black peppercorns
- 3 pieces dried mushrooms optional
For the Soup:
- 7 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 TBSP frying oil
- 7 oz 200 g smoked thick-cut bacon
- 14 oz 400 g Polish white sausage (biała kiełbasa) – raw/uncooked or cooked/scalded
- 3.5 oz 100 g smoked Polish sausage (kiełbasa) – any kind as long as it is smoked
- 1 medium onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 TBSP + 1 tsp marjoram
- 1.5 lbs 750 g potatoes
- Whole batch sour rye starter or to taste
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ½ tsp prepared horseradish from a jar
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 8 hard-boiled eggs optional
Make the Sour Rye Starter:
- Clean a large jar with soap water then scald it with boiling water. Fill the jar with 3 cups of boiled and cooled water.
- Slowly add flour to the jar, stirring constantly with a (clean/scalded) spoon until combined. If there are lumps, stir a bit longer, but if that doesn’t help, remove large lumps and leave small ones, they will dissolve the next day.
- Add all the spices and cut-in-half garlic cloves, stir again.
- Close the jar and leave it in a dry place at room temperature (72-75° F), it should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Open the jar once a day to release gases and stir the liquid with a very clean/scalded spoon.
- The rye starter should be ready after 5 days. It should have a pleasant acidic smell and taste. It tastes more sour with each day, but don’t leave it longer than 7 days. When it’s ready, strain the spices, and pour the liquid and flour into a small pot, cover it with plastic foil, and put in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. You will need the liquid and flour for the soup, discard all the spices.
Make the Soup:
- Cook the white sausage: Heat the broth, when hot add the raw white sausages and simmer over very low heat for 15-20 minutes (if you have already cooked sausage omit this step and just slice them like in the next step).
- Chop all the meats: Take the sausages out of the broth and cut them into slices. Cut the smoked sausage into ½-inch cubes and bacon into small cubes.
- Brown all the meats: heat the oil in a large frying pan. When hot, add all the chopped meat and sausages. Cook over high heat for a couple of minutes until nicely browned. Add all the meats to the pot with broth.
- Dice the onion, press the garlic through a garlic press, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch chunks.
- Cook the onions, garlic, and marjoram: Add the onions to the pan and cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and 1 TBSP of marjoram and cook for 30-60 seconds more, until fragrant. Transfer the onions into the pot. Add a couple of tablespoons of broth to the pan and scrape with a spatula all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, add them to the pot.
- Cook the potatoes: Add the potatoes to the pot with broth, meat, vegetables. Bring the soup to a boil and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
- Add the sour rye starter. Stir the flour with the liquid and add to the soup (any remaining spices should be discarded). Add the starter gradually, tasting the soup to make sure it’s not too sour for you (it’s completely acceptable to add the whole batch, just according to taste). Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes.
- Add the cream to the soup. Add the horseradish.
- Season the soup with salt, pepper, and the reserved ½ tsp of marjoram – rub the marjoram between your palms to release its aroma.
- Serve the soup with sliced boiled eggs.
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