Żurek

This hearty, sour meat and vegetable soup has been a popular Polish food for centuries. The Zakwas (sour broth) needs to be made 5 days in advance, but the end result is well worth the wait!

Fermentation Time: 5 daysPreparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutesServes: 4
Difficulty: Moderate

Ingredients

For the Zakwas (sour broth)

  • 3 tablespoons of rye flour
  • A slice of rye bread crust
  • 700ml/7dl/just over 1 pt/3 cups of water
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 allspice berries

For the soup:

  • 4 rashers of bacon
  • 450g/1lb/2 cups of Polish sausage (kielbasa)
  • 2 onions
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 parsnip
  • 3 celery stalks
  • Just under 2 litres/19dl/just over 3 pt/8 cups of water
  • A bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 potatoes
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tablespoon of horseradish sauce
  • A pinch of salt and pepper
  • 4 round loaves of crusty bread (optional)

Make it vegan: one option is to leave out the meats and make a vegan Żurek with veg and potatoes. Alternatively, there are some great online vegan recipes for bacon and Kielbasa that you can use. You can also find vegan bacon relatively easily in shops, and vegan retailer Tofurky supply a vegan Kielbasa sausage! Tofurky’s Kielbasa can be shipped internationally by companies like Vegan Essentials. It an also be bought locally in certain countries at vegan and health food shops, or at Tofurky shops in the U.S.

Special equipment

  • A sieve
  • A large saucepan

Instructions

  1. For the Zakwas: pour the rye flour, rye crust, all spice berries, garlic cloves, bay leaves and water into a large jar or bowl. Stir the contents together thoroughly, then cover the bowl with cling film. Shake the contents of the bowl once a day for the next 5 days. 
  2. Take the cling film off after 5 days. If any mould has appeared, use a spoon to remove it from the bowl. Use a sieve to drain the Zakwas liquid into a separate bowl. Throw the contents of the sieve away.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the sausage and bacon up into chunks. Peel the onion, carrots, parsnip, garlic and potatoes. Mince the garlic, and chop the other vegetables into large chunks.
  4. Add the bacon and sausage to a large saucepan and place it over a medium-high heat. Saute them for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.  
  5. Pour the onion, carrot, parsnip, celery and potato chunks to the pan and saute them with the meats for another couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, before adding the garlic and stirring briefly.
  6. Pour the water, bay leaf and oregano into the pan. Bring the soup to the boil, then turn it down slightly and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes. 
  7. Add 2 cups of the Zakwas liquid to the soup, along with the salt, pepper and horseradish sauce. Stir together thoroughly.
  8. If using bread bowls, use a knife to cut circles into the loves. You can then create hollows big enough to hold the equivalent of a bowl of soup- be careful not to cut too near the bottom of the loaf, or the soup may leak. 
  9. Smacznego!

Tips

  • If you prefer smooth soup, you can puree the Żurek in a food processor before serving it.
  • Żurek is traditionally served in hollowed out bread bowls- the bread makes a great accompaniment!

Background

Pronunciation: /ˈʐu.rɛk/ (jurr-ekk)

Origin: Poland

Relatives: Barszcz Bialy (Poland), Zhur (Belarus), Kyselo (Czechia), Okroshka (Russia), Bors (Romania). 

History

 The word ‘Żurek’ is the diminutive form of the ‘Żur’, a variation of the Old High German ‘sur’, meaning sour.

  Fermented cereal soups are a traditional staple food in several other central and eastern European countries, including Czechia, Slovakia and Belarus. Żurek is a popular Polish variant, as is Barszcz Biały (‘white borscht’), which is made with soured wheat instead of rye. 

Żurek is an ancient food: Żur is said to be the oldest Polish cuisine. It’s so old that it has a few competing origin myths. Some say Żurek was invented by a mean innkeeper, who tried to make a terrible soup as part of a bet but accidentally ended up creating something delicious. Others say that a poor old woman accidentally left some leaven in water while she went to gather vegetables for dinner, and when she returned, found she had accidentally created a delicious-smelling base for her soup.

In mediaeval times, Żurek was so popular that Polish peasants would keep a special bowl on standby for fermenting their Żakwas in. At Lent, only a basic version of the soup was eaten, and as a result, Żurek has traditionally represented sacrifice to Polish people. But at the end of Lent, an extravagant version of Żurek would be served as a celebratory Easter breakfast.

Żurek is still very popular today, and can be found in homes and restaurants across Poland. 

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