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Polish Sour Rye Soup Zurek Recipe

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Zurek is probably the most popular Polish soup. The rye starter fermented soup is often served with white sausages for Easter meals but can be eaten throughout the year. 

Memories of childhood grow deeper with Easter. When I was a child, my dad ran a small grocery store. He would make his own zakwas, the starter needed for zurek.

In Poland, people usually don’t make their own zakwas (fermented rye flour starter). It’s easier to purchase it in a bottle in almost every Polish shop. This fermented zurek starter called zakwas is what gives the soup its characteristic sour taste. 

I’d often watch dad stirring the zakwas every day, till finally one day he would pour it into bottles and arrange it on the shelves. At Easter time, there were twice or thrice as many bottles ready. Dad had to set one aside for home beforehand, because the time Holy Saturday came, his customers had taken all the bottles from the store. They loved it!

What Is Zurek?

Zurek is a traditional Polish soup that’s tangy and fortifying. Made with root vegetables and a meaty broth, it’s quite filling too. 

But where did this delightfully sour Polish soup originate? 

Originally from Silesia, we’re not sure how Zurek originated, but there are a number of legends associated with it dating as far back as the 15th century. Of course, the soup at that time was a bit different. It only found its current form in the 18th or 19th centuries. 

How Was Zurek Invented?

One legend says that it was created by an innkeeper from Poznan in the Wielkopolska Province. This man was popular for diluting alcohol with water or for serving very poor-quality food.

The village folk were very unhappy with him. So they hired a man who bet the innkeeper that he could eat the worst soup he prepared. If the innkeeper won, he’d get the bag of gold, if the man won, he’d get the inn.

The innkeeper thought he could prepare the worst soup possible. So he took a pot of leaven, add hot water, sausages, and any veggies that he could find. To make the soup taste worse he also added a lot of garlic and marjoram.

But to his surprise, the visitor liked the soup and asked for more! So the dishonest innkeeper lost his inn and moved to Silesia, but was responsible for inventing the famous soup.

Zurek is such a versatile dish. It can be served as a side dish, a drinkable soup, or even as a whole meal. You’ll most often find it served at Easter or Christmas celebrations. 

Easter Zurek Tradition

One popular tradition from the Silesian region of Poland involves burying the sour rye soup on Good Friday evening. The soup was taken in a funeral procession to the outskirts of the village and the pot of zurek was buried and covered with soil. And on Sunday, the soup was served for Easter breakfast!

Zurek In Other Places

In different regions and parts of the country, zurek ingredients vary a lot. You’ll find boiled potatoes or boiled eggs added often. Some people also add celery, mushrooms, carrots, parsnips, or other root vegetables.

In the Województwo Podkarpackie region of Poland, the zurek is made with oatmeal and is called żur owsiany. 

In neighboring countries too, soups similar to zurek recipe are an important part of the culture. In Belarus, it’s called zhur, while in Czechia it’s called Kyselo. And both these countries have their own legends for the creation of the soup. 

How To Make Polish Sour Rye Soup Recipe

Step I – Making The Fermented Rye Starter Or Zakwas

Mix rye flour with warm purified water and cover with gauze. Place it in a cold dark place and stir twice daily. The zakwas is ready for use after a week.

Step II – Make The Żurek

Boil bay leaves and allspice berries in water. Next, add all the meats and cook for about half an hour but don’t allow it to boil.

While the meats cooking, fry a diced onion in oil and set aside.

Ingredients for the zurek soup.
Ingredients for the Zurek Soup
Spices boiling for the soup and meat on a platter.
Boil the allspice berries and bay leaves

You can now take the meat out of the soup. Debone the meat if you prefer. (It tastes good with bones too.) Chop and dice it along with the bacon and sausages.

Add the zakwas starter to the zurek soup while stirring continuously.

Next, add the fried onion and diced meat back to the soup and cook for about 5 minutes. Add marjoram, salt, and crushed garlic before serving!

Depending on when you’re serving the zurek, it can be served in different ways. You can drink it plain for the warmth. Or you can add some boiled eggs or boiled potatoes. White sausages are the most popular addition to the Easter recipe for zurek!

Add the zurek starter to the soup.
Lastly, add the zurek starter to the soup
Zurek soup with meat.
Zurek soup with pork bones
Zurek soyp in a white bowl.
Zurek soup without the meat
Zurek soup in a homemade bread bowl with egg wedges.
Zurek soup in a homemade bread bowl with egg wedges

How To Serve Zurek?

Zurek soup can be served in many different ways. 

  • Serve it in a cup for a quick warming drink. 
  • Serve in a bread bowl for a complete meal. 
  • Serve with a side of toasted bread or fresh buttered buns!
  • Serve with dill pickles or chrzan. 
  • Top with halved boiled eggs, fried bacon, or kielbasa slices before serving! 
Zurek with kielbasa sausages.
Zurek with kielbasa sausages
Zurek with kielbasa sausages and bacon bits.
Zurek with kielbasa sausages and fried bacon bits

Tips For Making Polish Zurek Recipe

  • Żurek is often served in a bread bowl. You can eat the bowl after eating the soup.
  • You can buy instant zurek soup or zurek soup concentrate on Amazon.
  • Zurek tastes better the next day, so make it a day earlier if you can. 
  • If you cannot find white sausages, use any other Polish sausages or smoked kielbasa that you like. 
  • Add any other boiled root veggies to the soup. 
  • Never add beets to the soup or it will lose its traditional white color. 
  • Zurek is a traditionally meaty soup. If you want it vegetarian, try the delicious zalewajka fasting soup.
  • You can also use chicken rosol or pre-made pork broth to make this soup.
  • You can add sour cream to the zurek to thicken it!
  • Add some horseradish if you want the zurek to have a sharper taste!

FAQs About Polish Sour Rye Soup Zurek 

What Does Zurek Mean?

Zurek literally means sour soup. Derived from the German word sauer which means sour or pickled, it’s pronounced zhu -rek. 

Do I Have To Use Pork Bones In The Zurek Soup?

No, it’s not essential to use pork bones as one of the zurek ingredients, but if you do add it, it gives the soup a nice flavor. 

If you want to skip the pork bones, add any other pork meat of your choice – bacon, ham, kielbasa sausages, etc.

What Is This Difference Between Recipe For Zurek Soup And Zalewajka Recipe?

Zurek and Zalewajka are both made with fermented rye flour starter, but zalewajka is a meatless fasting soup eaten at Lenten time, while Zurek contains meat and is often eaten for the Easter meal.

What Is The Difference Between Zurek And Barszcz Bialy?

Zurek soup looks a lot similar to the Barszcz Bialy, but they are made using different starters. Barszcz bialy or white borscht soup is made using a fermented wheat flour starter, while the zurek soup starter is fermented rye flour.

What Does Zurek Taste Like?

Zurek tastes slightly sour, but not harsh. It has a delicate sourness, intense garlicky flavor, and is also creamy at the same time! 

How To Make The Zurek Bread Bowl?

Buy any large round bread, preferably a boule sourdough. Hollow it out by scooping out the center. Add the zurek soup to this bread bowl and serve. You finish the meal by eating the delicious bread bowl. 

What Can I Use If I Cannot Find Marjoram?

If you cannot find marjoram in a Polish deli near you can purchase it online. If you still don’t find it, you can substitute it with a lesser quantity of oregano.

How To Store Zurek Soup?

Store zurek soup in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Since it’s dairy-free, zurek soup will also freeze nicely for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature and reheat before serving.

If you add sour cream or heavy cream to the soup, do not freeze. It must be finished within 3 to 4 days.

Polish Sour Rye Soup Zurek Recipe

Yield: 20

Polish Sour Rye Soup Zurek Recipe

Polish Sour Rye Soup Zurek Recipe

A traditional dish eaten for Easter, Zurek is probably the most popular Polish soup. The rye starter fermented soup is often served with white sausages, boiled potatoes, or eggs. 

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Additional Time 5 days
Total Time 5 days 50 minutes

Ingredients

Fermented Rye Flour Starter

  • 5 tbsps of rye flour
  • 2 cups of purified water

Żurek Soup

  • 35 oz (1kg) of smoked pork bones
  • 10 oz (300g) of bacon
  • 3 quarts / litres of water
  • 5 allspice berries
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 white sausages
  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp of dried marjoram
  • 2 tbsps of salt
  • 1 tbsp of oil

Add-ons to choose

  • 2 boiled potatoes
  • 2 boiled eggs

Instructions

    Step 1 - Making The Fermented Rye Starter (Zakwas)

  1. In a clean glass jar, mix rye flour with warm, purified water.
  2. Cover the jar with a linen cloth or gauze. Place it in the cold (max 20°C / 68°F), dark place.
  3. Stir zakwas twice a day.
  4. After 5-7 days it is ready to use.

Step 2 - Cooking Żurek

  1. Pour water into a big pot. Add allspice berries and bay leaves and bring to boil.
  2. Reduce the heat. Add smoked pork bones, bacon, and white sausage. Cook for about 30 minutes, but don't bring it to a boil!
  3. In the meantime, peel and dice an onion, then fry it on oil.
  4. Take off the meat. Dice the bacon and cut the white sausage in slices or bigger chunks. You may also remove meat from the bones and dice it.
  5. Stir zakwas for about 1 minute, making sure there are no lumps.
  6. Bring the żurek to boil, reduce the heat, then slowly start pouring zakwas into it, stirring all the time.
  7. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  8. Turn off the heat.
  9. Add crushed garlic cloves, marjoram, and salt.

Notes

You can use smoked bacon and raw bones.

If you can't find Polish white sausages, you can use any other sausage as well.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

20

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 462Total Fat: 28gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 164mgSodium: 1006mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 44g

These data are indicative and calculated by Nutritionix

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