Żurek is a sour soup made from fermented rye flour with sausages, potatoes, eggs, and spices. It is popular across Poland in a variety of regional tweaks.
It’s also known in Belarusian, Czech and Slovak cuisines under a different name.
While it’s a traditional Easter lunch soup, it’s widely eaten all year round these days.
Zurek or Zur is also sometimes called white borscht (barszcz biały), but it’s not the same thing. It’s a totally different soup.
Where Did Zurek Come From?
According to Maria Dembińska the origins of zurek are pretty gross. It happened when peasants didn’t wash the pot from a previous soup properly and the fermentation created a sour base.
Another legend says that it started with a disagreement between a village and baker who owned an inn. He served a ton of watered-down things at his inn.
The villagers were fed up with this procedure and paid the random person who would bet the baker for a bag of gold that he would eat the worst soup he could prepare. The skimpy baker, without thinking much, poured boiling water over the leaven on the bread which turned out to be a great soup and he lost the bet.
This humble fortifying soup with a unique sour cream flavor makes for a hearty and wholesome dinner.
Recipe Pointers for making Zurek soup
- The uniquely sour taste of zurek comes from the Zakwas starter. So it’s an essential ingredient you cannot skip.
- If you plan on making a zurek, ensure you get the Zakwas culture started 5 days earlier.
- If you can’t find white kielbasa, any regular Polish sausage will do.
- Top the zurek with leaves of fresh marjoram and serve with halved or quartered boiled eggs and some crusty bread.
- You can optionally serve Zurek with diced boiled potatoes and carrots.
- To make the zurek vegetarian replace the kielbasa with mushrooms, the bouillion with mushroom stock, and the bacon with shallots and mushrooms.
FAQs about the Polish Sour Soup called Zurek
One ingredient that cannot be replaced is Zakwas (Fermented Rye Flour Starter). It’s unlikely to find it at a regular store outside of Eastern Europe.
You can try making it yourself, but it’s a TON of effort and takes about 5 days. Thankfully, there are people who make it for a living – I found some on Etsy.
It’s possible to make zurek without it or even make it from a pre-made bag, but it won’t taste the same. Get your zakwas.
If you decide to make a zakwas starter you need to purchase dark rye flour.
– Put 7-8 tablespoons of rye flour into the jar
– Pour in the flour with 16 oz of water
– Cover the jar with gauze or cloth and set aside for 4-5 days (remember to stir one or two times a day)
– You can store it in a refrigerator, in a closed jar, for up to two weeks
In Poland, Zurek is served with white sausage, but again – you won’t find it in the US (I’ve never even seen it at any Polish delis).
Regular Polish sausage works just fine, don’t worry! It’s not the same tasty, but your soup won’t be awful 😉
Zurek is pronounced Zhu – reck. It’s also called Zur sometimes, and that’s pronounced Zhurr.
Marjoram is a perennial herb of the oregano family that tastes a little milder than oregano. It’s frequently used in Polish and German dishes, especially in sausages.
To eat Zurek in the traditional way, serve it in a bread bowl. Buy a few loaves of rye bread and cut an inch-thick slice off the top of each bread loaf. Next, hollow out the bottom part of the bread while leaving a shell that’s about an inch thick. Use this as the bread bowl for the Zurek. If you prefer, you can chop the discarded bread into cubes and use them as croutons.
Borscht is an Eastern European sour soup that gets its tartness from lemons, vinegar, citric acid, apples, plums, red wine or sauerkraut juice. On the other hand, Zurek gets its sourness from the fermented rye flour starter called zakwas.
Yes, you can refrigerate leftover Zurek; but since it contains sour cream, please try to finish it within a day or two. To reheat, put the Zurek in a pot and warm on a low flame till heated.
- 4 cups of vegetable bouillon
- 2 ¼ cups (500ml) of zakwas - Sour Rye Flour Starter
- 1 lbs of kielbasa
- 1 lbs of bacon
- 1 onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 3 tbsp sour cream
- 1 boiled egg
- Heat up the bouillon in a large pot.
- Chop bacon and onion into small cubes and fry it. Once frying add the onion, garlic and sausage cut into slices.
- Put the contents of the frying pan into the bullion, along with zakwas and marjoram and cook for about 30 minutes.
- Once you take it from the gas, add sour cream, salt and optionally pepper.
- Serve with half or quarter of boiled egg on top, and bread.
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