The Żurek was the first Polish food I sampled in Poznan, as you can see from this post back in October 2009, recounting our visit to Restauracja Ratuszova, a fantastic place for traditional dishes in the Stary Rynek. Before I describe it, let me say that Żurek is delicious and a hearty soup, but it will sound most unusual to Americans. I can’t think of a comparable soup made in the states.
The Żurek broth is made with soured rye flour. Think sour dough starter, but thinner in consistency. If you live in Poland, you can pick up a bottle of zakwas (the sour liquid) at any market, but when you live in Arizona, you have to make your own, and that’s what I did. It’s not difficult it just takes a little advance planning. You’ll need to start this 5 days in advance.
Żurek is a traditional Easter breakfast dish in Poland. The soup will include a spicy white sausage, to celebrate and mark the end of Lenten fasting. I’ve been told that Żurek served during Lent will be served without all of the meat, but ordering it in restaurants, I never noticed a difference based on the liturgical calendar.
What you can bet on is that there are limitless variations of this soup, by region, by family. Earlier this year, someone on Facebook rigorously critiqued one of my soup recipes because I had used celery and that wasn’t traditional. The thing is, I could easily point to at least half a dozen food blogs written in Polish that include celery or celery root in this soup. Maybe her mother or grandmother just didn’t like celery. A new tradition is born. I knew what I was writing was legit, but it felt like she was calling me a fraud. Blogging, it’s not for the faint of heart. 😉
A reader similarly took Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden to task when a newspaper published their Żurek soup recipe which they also referred to as Biały (White) Barszcz. The reader said the two soups were not the same, and that Anne Applebaum should know better. You can find their cookbook here (via my Amazon affiliate link).
Olga Smile a popular Polish food blogger says that in her family, it was considered White Barszcz if they added cream, white sausage, marjoram. Without these, the plainer version, they considered Żurek, but even Olga says the distinction is fluid. I don’t know enough to weigh in on this argument, so I’ll leave you with this recipe and say add or subtract to your heart’s content, which to my mind is normal when making soup.
PS – speaking of fraud, a few hours after my knee replacement surgery, I noticed that the photo of my bean soup post on facebook wasn’t loading the way I wanted, so I replaced it with a photo and a seperate link. My friend, Gosia, said that’s probably delicious, but it’s not bean soup. She’s right, it was this photo of zurek. I blame it on the drugs! 🙂
- 5 tablespoons rye flour
- Crust from a slice of rye bread (optional)
- 3 cups water
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 bay leaves
- 5 allspice berries
- 4 slices bacon, diced
- 1 pound Polish sausage or brautwurst, sliced
- 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
- 1 large carrot, sliced
- 1 large parsnip, sliced
- ½ celery root, peeled and diced
- 6 - 8 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 4 large potatoes, peeled and diced
- ½ teaspoon marjoram
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoon horseradish (fresh grated or jarred)
- 2 tablesppons cream
- hard boiled eggs
- Add the flour and crust (if you're using it) to a large jar
- Add the water, garlic, bay leaves, and allspice
- Mix thoroughly, as it sits, it will seperate with the flour sinking to the bottom
- Cover the jar with a paper towel or kitchen towel (I like to secure it with a large rubber band)
- Let sit for five days, giving it a swirl daily to mix
- Brown the bacon and sasage in a Dutch oven
- Add the onion, carrot, parsnip and celery root
- Add water and bay leaf and garlic, simmer for 40 minutes
- Add the potatoes and marjoram, cook until the potatoes are tender
- Add 2 cups of the zakwas (strained or flour mixed in, your choice) if you want the soup more sour, add the remaining zakwas
- Season with salt and pepper
- Add horseradish and cream
- Return to a boil and remove from heat
- Serve by garnishing with hard boiled egg, halved, quarted, or diced
Some cooks will cook the potatoes seperately before adding to the soup. I wanted them to cook in the soup, the starch adding thickness to the broth.