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, but I have recently heard that White Barszcz is made from soured wheat rather than soured rye. Does that ring true?
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.
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Żurek (a Polish Rye Soup)
- Prep Time: 30 mins
- Cook Time: 90 mins
- Total Time: 2 hours
- Yield: 6 - 8 servings 1x
- Category: Soup
- Cuisine: Polish
A hearty soup with a sour broth often served in elaborate rye bread bowls
for zakwas (the sour liquid):
- 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
for the soup:
- 4 slices bacon, diced
- 1 pound Polish sausage or bratwurst, sliced
- 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
- 1 large carrot, sliced
- 1 large parsnip, sliced
- 1/2 celery root, peeled and diced
- 6 – 8 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 4 large potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoon horseradish (fresh grated or jarred)
- 2 tablespoons cream
- hard-boiled eggs
for the zakwas (the sour liquid)
- 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
for the soup:
- 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 make a broth with the soup veg and discard the vegetables before proeeding. I prefer to eat them. Fiber is good for you.
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.
An accountant by trade and a food blogger since 2009, Lois Britton fell in love with Polish cuisine during the years she lived in Poznań, Poland. As the creator of PolishHousewife.com, she loves connecting readers with traditional Polish recipes. Lois has a graduate certificate in Food Writing and Photography from the University of South Florida. She is the author of The Polish Housewife Cookbook, available on Amazon and on her website.
Lois – do you suppose using shallots instead of the garlic would be OK? This sounds so wonderful and hearty!
I think it would be a good work around for you, David. How difficult it must be to be allergic to garlic!
As you said, foods vary from cook to cook. I’m happy to have found your site.
Thanks, Ava; I’m delighted to connect with you!
Do you leave the zakwas out on the counter or put it in the fridge?
On the counter
i just made this and it was delicious!! I sped things up a little by boiling the potatoes and veggies together at the same time and browning the meats together in a pan in the meantime, then adding them in with the veggies. My question is whether there are any ways to use the leftover zawas? Could you keep the culture going for more zurek, or use it in sourdough bread? other options? Thanks!
Interesting question, Leah. I’ve never tried to keep the culture going, but I think you could thicken it a bit, feed it with more rye flour and use it for bread.
Just a pet peeve of mine: prep time =/= 30 min when it takes 5 days to make part of the dish.
I have a similar with a favorite Jambalaya receipe that I make once a year. It says “Prep Time: 30 min.” So I go to the store, get all the ingredients, and get set to make dinner (so it will be ready when my wife gets home). First step of the recipe: “Soak beans overnight.” Well that’s a heck of a lot longer than 30 min!
It’s my fault for not reading the whole thing first, I realize; hence why I read the whole thing these days.
Looking forward to making this soup… 5 days from now. 🙂 Thanks for writing the recipe!!
Sorry for the aggravation, Ryan. It’s something I’ve given thought to and a difficult thing to communicate. Saying that it takes 5 days of prep time isn’t completely accurate either. I wish recipe schema plugins provided a window for inactive time or something similar. In the end, I hope you enjoy the soup.
Sounds Great! My wife is also a Polish wife. She grew up eating and making these dishes and she is the one that passed on your recipe when I mentions I had never had this yet. She knows how much I like to cook new things and learning traditional Polish dishes is interesting for me too.
We share a love of cooking new things. I am a Polish Housewife only at heart. I knew nothing about the country before we moved there. We fell in love with Poland and the food! ❤️
I’ve just returned from a trip to krakow and sampled this amazing dish. Thanks for sharing…. I’m hoping to find zacwas in my local polish shop as we have a large polish community in our town. Can’t wait to make it yum yum x
Kathryn at Polish stores you can buy żurek or biały barszcz in bags (powdered ones), the best are Winiary, I only use these, not zakwas .
I’ve been searching for a sour type soup my grandmother used to make. She served it on Christmas Eve and it was a clear sour soup with a dumpling like a pierogi. I don’t remember it having any meat or vegetables but I was only a child so maybe they just didn’t put them in my bowl. I don’t remember it tasting like rye though. Is the rye a predominant flavor.
The sour is predominant. It might have been Barszcz, a sour beet soup or this soup without meat since it was Christmas Eve. It’s sometimes called White Barszcz served that way.
Other traditional soup sevred on Christmas Eve dinner is kwas also known as kwasówka which translates literally as sour (soup). This soup basically utilizes leftover liquid from cooking dry wild fungi which are then used in other dishes and juice from cooking sauerkraut. It is sour, very intense in flavour and in weird green to brownish colour, It is served the same way as barszcz, with polish version of tortellini – uszka, stuffed with fungi filling. The soup is also popular to be used as a remedy for hangover 😉
Great read, and you’re very right (especially with anything traditional of eastern european cultures). As my babcia aged, a lot of us took on certain traditional tasks. I was “lucky” (lol) enough to get “the barscht” as we call it. I love doing it and I’ve finally gotten it down after about 8 years, but day of is always the Bain of my existence. At any rate, we traditionally have it for wiglia (Polish Christmas Eve). Ours is also very simple, no meat or anything besides mushrooms really (aside from diced onions/garlic) it’s likely a previous commenter was likely thinking of zurek…in the states it’s very typical on wiglia.
Also for the fermentation process, your 5 day timing is definitely accurate….in our version though, you fill a crock/jar with a broken whole loaf of rye bread (seeded preferably, more pungent) and soak that in water for about 5 hours. After straining, over the next 4 days you add 4 tbsp rye flour, 4tbsp quick oats, and 1 tbsp salt (and then 1 less on the first 2 each day, so 4/4/1, 3/3/1, 2/2/1, 1/1/1) but the most important part I’ve found over the years is WHERE you ferment. I’ve gotten my best results from leaving it on top of the water heater, or on the floor next to a radiator (using a towel or something covering it to insulate the heat). Makes a HUGE difference. 🙂
Made this recipe just as written and it was delicious. I kept the veggies in and used all the zakwas except for the flour settled on the bottom. Will definitely be making this again. Thanks for sharing
I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to let me know!
Well done guys! I am a Polish mom living in Dublin, Ireland, and I make my own zurek; as, honestly, I can’t stand the store bough ones. Mind you, I grew up in Poland, where my mom used to buy ready made zakwas, and it seemed or used to be good quality. However, when you try your own you will never switch back to store bought, it makes such big difference! Keeping the zakwas life, like sourdough is a valid point, and this precisely what I do. I found the perfect spot for it in my kitchen (right temp, which prevents it going mouldy – this is super important!). It is called a Soup of Life, so beneficial it is to your health should be a staple! My 6-years-old girl loves it! In terms of varieties, Lois, your post hold true, every family has their own recipe. For example, I make mine, mostly vegetarian – I use local and seasonal veg: kale leaves, parsnip, (celery is ok too!), horseradish leaves, carrots, wild mushrooms, herbs and & spices: lovage, garlic, marjoram… but you can add anything, as long as you like it really! As long as it fermented rye it is zurek 🙂 (but there are also oat and wheat variates, and bear in mind, it is also often called Barscz Bialy in some parts of Poland, although some people may object to BB being only made of wheat!) What is more, my Babcia, made her Barszcz using soured gherkins water (zakwas z ogorkow kiszonych) and it was super special!
Simple zurek: 1.I make zakwas in a large jar-2 liter for example,rye flour,garlic,water,small piece of rye bread -for better fermentation,mix and try every day,for 3,4,5 days-depends of temperature in the room.when ready I pour it to smaller bottles(plastic water bottles) and put them to the fridge.Can stay weeks and 2-3 months easy-no problem.2 When I make my zurek I just cook piece of any polish sausage-regular or white or some bacon(or mix of those)some potatoes,salt and pepper ,when potatoes soft add my zakwas(base),cook 15-20 min.For better taste I use only Maggi seasoning fluid(can be lovage),if is not sour enough-some lemon juice.That’s it. The rest is just optional-sour cream,vegetables,bay lives,allspice and whatever you want.Thing is ,that it is very old,traditional poor peasant soup,Simple food. Zurek and white borscht are similar,but different soups.(different base-zakwas)
Thank you for posting this recipe! I loved reading all the variations in the comments section. Many years ago my husband’s Bacie taught me how to make this fermented soup that she called White Borsht. She also used left over ends of rye bread and flour or she said oatmeal could be used along with everything else. Polish mushrooms were also added to the soup. I haven’t made it in many years but have now renewed my interest in making it!
It looks like this would be tasty. I keep a rye based sourdough starter in my refrigerator, do you think I could use that and just add the bay leaf, and the rest? If not, I have plenty of rye flour to make a fresh sour. Do you use medium or dark rye flour? My father’s parents were Slovak, but I don’t know that they ever made this.
Hi Stephanie, this is a light more watery than a typical starter, so maybe just water it down and add the spices? I use medium rye because that’s all I can find.
Hej, Just for making things clear: żuŕ (żurek) is made of sour rye. Bialy barszcz is made of sour wheat. There is your difference and they are really not the same, although both delicious. Also żurek is an everyday meal, while barszcz biały is served on easter. The use of horseradish is optional, and for my family it was connected to easter dish. Also you are right, celery is a part of almost every polish soup, as long as we dont have problem with it.
Your recipe looks good for the native. This is how we have it.
This recipe is excellent and takes me back to my mom’s zurek and family meals in Krakow. I bought zakwas from the local polish grocery store and then followed everything else. I’ve made this recipe for Christmas and once when I was just craving. I plan to make it again in a couple of weeks when we have a house guest and I can’t wait. Thank you for sharing!
I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed it, Paulina! Smacznego!
The new Polish guy in our house promises to make Zurek tonight.
Let us hope it’s good.