Here’s the recipe for the Authentic Polish Sour Rye Soup Żurek!
Ingredients for 6 portions:
250 ml or 1 cup of the Sour Rye called Zakwas or Żur (you can find the recipe here);
2 litres (8 cups) of water or homemade vegetable stock, if available;
1 large white onion or 2 small ones;
200 gr (7 oz) of smoked bacon;
6 Polish white sausages, Biała Kiełbasa (the best is raw, Surowa, or alternatively the steamed Parzona type);
3 big potatoes (optional);
3 laurel leaves;
5 allspice berries;
2-3 cloves of garlic;
fresh or dried marjoram;
salt and pepper to taste;
2 tbsp of a good vegetable oil.
Take out the smoked bacon out of the fridge ahead of time and cut it into small stripes or dices.
Place on a cold skillet and turn on the stove, medium heat. The lard present in the bacon will slowly release its grease as it cooks. Once golden, put the bacon in a large empty pot.
Try to leave as much grease as possible on the skillet, so that you can cook your previously chopped onion with it. If there’s not enough fat, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Once the onion is golden, transfer in the same pot with the bacon.
Add all the aromas and spices in the pot: crushed garlic, allspice berries, laurel leaves, 1 tsp of dried marjoram or 3 to 4 marjoram stems with small leaves.
Add the potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes.
Wash the white sausages, detach one from the other and put them together with the rest.
Pour the water, or the vegetable stock, in the pot, mix all the ingredients with a wooden spoon and bring to a boil. When the soup starts boiling, lower down the flame considerably, so that it gently simmers.
Cook until the sausages have slightly changed in colour, the potatoes have become soft and the spices have released their aromas, then add salt and pepper to taste.
Take out the sausages on a plate and, keeping the flame low, start pouring the Zakwas or Żur to the soup. Make sure the sour rye is well mixed and the flour doesn’t stay on the bottom of your container. First stir in half of the Zakwas and taste.
If it is already sour enough for you, do not add the rest. If, instead, the Żurek lacks bite, gradually stir in the remaining Żur, until you achieve the perfect harmony between acidity and flavours.
Remember that your soup will naturally become more sour as time passes, unless immediately served when done.
You can either cut the white sausages into 1 cm (0.5 inch) thick slices and put them back in the soup or leave a full Biała Kiełbasa for each portion to enjoy on a side, with a dollop of spicy mustard and a slice of fresh bread.
The second option is certainly more elegant and more representative on a beautifully set Easter table, according to Polish tradition.
Either way, your Żurek is now hot and ready to be tasted!
If your family is very hungry, count two sausages per person. You may also add one hard boiled egg, cut in quarters, directly to the plate. The egg will marry incredibly well with the ensemble of aromas in the soup.
One last tip is to sprinkle some dried marjoram, or fresh marjoram leaves, on top of Żurek just before serving…to add an extra kick and facilitate the digestion of this hearty Polish dish!