Dinner/ Easter/ polish/ soups

Żurek recipe – Polish sour rye soup

4 March 2021 | Last Updated: 7 March 2021 By Aleksandra

Żurek is an amazing Polish soup made with white sausage, smoked meat, and sour liquid made from fermented rye flour. Sounds weird? I bet it does, but if only words could describe how delicious it is. It may be unusual to a foreign palate at first, but I can assure you, you will love it more and more with each bite (or spoon). The soup is meaty, smokey, thick, creamy, and delightfully sour. It’s traditionally eaten at Easter but is also popular during other parts of the year. I served it with boiled eggs and potatoes.

While it sounds complicated it is actually quick and easy to make, you just need time to make the sour rye starter (5 days – this is only waiting time!). It just requires planning a few days in advance, that’s all!

Żurek with kielbasa, eggs, and potatoes in a white-blue bowl.

How to pronounce this?

Żurek is pronounced “zhurek”. Click here to listen how to pronounce it.

Ingredients:

Sour rye starter

This is one of the two key ingredients of this soup. There is no way you could omit this or substitute this. In Poland, there is a huge array of pre-made products, which can be hit or miss. It’s really so easy to do and always comes out delicious so I really see no point in buying one.

Sour rye starter is very similar to sourdough bread starter – it’s just not as thick, the water to flour ratio is different. The method is identical – rye flour is combined with water and spices then left to ferment. Bacteria and yeast, which come from the air and the ingredients themselves, feed on the sugars in the flour, then transform them into lactic acid, which is responsible for the sour taste of the rye starter. We use the same method to make beet kvass (beets are fermented here, instead of flour) which is used to make Polish Christmas Eve beet soup.

Sour rye starter is also called “żur”.

If you’re wondering what to do with leftover rye flour left from this recipe I have for you delicious and super chewy rye chocolate chip cookies! These are chocolate chip cookies made with rye flour, cinnamon, and bourbon!

Polish white sausage

Polish white sausage (biała kiełbasa) is the second key ingredient of this soup. I really encourage you to find it in a Polish grocery store or order it online. If you really can’t find it, just use any kind of smoked Polish sausage. The soup won’t taste as good as traditional żurek but it still will be delicious.

Some websites will tell you to substitute it with German Weisswurst (one even says it tastes the same, duh!) but since I live in Vienna and tried them both, I can tell you, that’s not a good substitution. They look similar, true, they are both “white” (weiss/weiß means white in German and biała/biały means white in Polish) but that’s where the similarities end. The German Weisswurst is made with veal meat, pork fat, and it’s seasoned with parsley, lemon zest, onions, ginger, and cardamom.

Polish white sausage, on the other hand, is made with pork meat and seasoned with garlic and marjoram – it’s very aromatic and really delicious. I’m not that big “sausage eater” but I REALLY like this sausage. There are two types of white sausage: uncooked or cooked/scalded – both types can be used in this recipe. White sausage is NOT smoked.

I’ve also read that Thuringian sausage may be similar to Polish white sausage. I haven’t tried it myself but looking at the ingredient list, I think it may be similar in taste. This sausage comes from the German state of Thuringia and is made with minced pork, beef, and seasoned with garlic, marjoram, and caraway.

Please note that the term ‘kiełbasa’ means just sausage in Polish and refers to any kind of Polish sausage – and there are many! In English-speaking countries, the word kielbasa is mostly associate with smoked kind of Polish sausage. You can see here on the Wikipedia page, a couple of photos with different kielbasa types.

Smoked meats

While you can find white sausage and sour rye starter in every żurek recipe, adding smoked meats is optional, but many Polish recipes call for them. You can use any smoked pork meat you have on hand – this can be any type of smoked Polish kiełbasa, smoked bacon, smoked pork ribs. I really think there should be some smoked flavor in this soup. You can omit this if you wish and just add more white kielbasa to the soup.

Broth

You can use chicken or vegetable broth to make this soup. You can use store-bought broth or make your own, I have instructions how to make homemade chicken broth in my recipe for Polish dill pickle soup.

Flavorings

  • Onion and garlic
  • Marjoram – this spice is used a lot in Polish recipes.
  • Horseradish – you can omit it if you don’t have it, it makes the soup taste more ‘sharp’. Use just a tiny bit – a small amount goes a long way!

Other ingredients:

Potatoes – not everyone adds potatoes to their żurek, but I really love them in this soup! Some people serve the soup with boiled potatoes or mashed potatoes. I like to cook them directly in the soup.

Cream – adding a splash of cream improves flavor of any soup!

Labeled ingredients for żurek soup.

What is the difference between żurek and barszcz biały (white borscht)

Barszcz biały is another very popular Polish soup! These two soups are very similar, these are the differences:

  • żurek is made with sour rye starter, while barszcz biały with sour wheat starter
  • more cream is added to barszcz biały
  • barszcz biały is less sour (you need to add less sour wheat starter)

Let’s get started! First make the sour rye starter:

Contrary to the popular opinion (also among Polish people), it’s really easy to make! Prep time is literally 5 minutes and then you just have to let it ferment for 5 days and stir it once a day. It will give your soup an unique flavor! Think, why does sourdough bread taste so good? Also, thanks to the sourdough starter.

Here’s what you need:

  • Water – boiled and cooled.
  • Rye flour – it has a nutty flavor that distinguishes it from wheat flour. Use medium or dark rye flour for this recipe (I used medium rye flour). Different rye flours are determined by how much of the rye kernel is present. The more rye kernel there is, the darker the flour – this also means a more intense rye flavor in your rye starter. In white rye flour, the bran and germ are completely removed, so its flavor is too mild for this recipe.
  • Some seasonings – fresh garlic, dried mushrooms, allspice berries, black peppercorns, bay leaves.
Labeled ingredients for sour rye starter.

How to make it step by step:

A collage of 3 photos showing preparation steps of sour rye starter.

STEP 1: Clean a large jar with soap water then scald it with boiling water (it’s not completely necessary but it prevents from growing unwanted bacteria species). Fill the jar with 3 cups of boiled and cooled water.

STEP 2: Slowly add flour to the jar, stirring constantly with a spoon until combined (your spoon should be very clean or scalded).

What to do if there are lumps: stir it a little bit longer but if it doesn’t help, take out large lumps and leave small ones, they will dissolve the next day.

STEP 3: Add all the spices and cut in half garlic cloves, stir again.

STEP 4: Close the jar and leave it in a dry place at room temperature (72-75°F / 22-24°C), it should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Open the jar once a day to release gases and stir the liquid with a very clean or scalded spoon.

The rye starter should be ready after 5 days. It should have a pleasant acidic smell and taste. It tastes more sour with each day, but don’t leave it longer than 7 days. When it’s ready, strain the spices, and pour the liquid and flour into a small pot, cover it with plastic foil, and put in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. You will need the liquid and flour for the soup, discard all the spices.

A collage of 3 photos showing how sour rye starter should look like.

The photo on the left: this is how your rye starter will look like after a day – there will be foam/bubbles on top, which is a sign of bacteria activity. Photo in the middle – this is how it looks like when the flour sinks at the bottom of the jar. The photo on the right: this is how the starter looks like when you stir it with a spoon.

How to accelerate the process: You can add 2-3 tablespoons of active sourdough (bread) starter or water from the cucumbers in brine (not pickles with vinegar, just naturally fermented cucumbers) or liquid from the sauerkraut (only naturally fermented sauerkraut, not with vinegar added) or a small piece of good-quality sourdough rye bread (but there is a bigger chance that your sour rye starter will go bad, I personally try to avoid this, try this only if you’re in hurry). If you add one of these ingredients, the sour rye starter can be ready after about 3 days.

How to make żurek soup step by step:

Adding white sausages into a pot with broth. Chopped meats on a wooden board.

STEP 1: Cook the white sausage: Heat the broth, when hot add the raw white sausages and simmer over very low heat for 15-20 minutes (if you have already cooked sausage omit this step and just slice them like in step 2).

STEP 2: Chop all the meats: Take the sausages out of the broth and cut them into slices. Cut the smoked sausage into 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubes and bacon into small cubes. Dice the onion, press the garlic through a garlic press, peel the potatoes, and cut them into 1-inch (2.5cm) chunks.

Sausages and meats are being cooked in a pan. Onion and spices are being cooked in a pan.

STEP 3: Brown all the meats: heat the oil in a large frying pan. When hot, add all the chopped meat and sausages. Cook over high heat for a couple of minutes until nicely browned. Add all the meats to the pot with broth.

STEP 4: Cook the onions, garlic, and marjoram: Add the onions to the pan and cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and 1 tablespoon of marjoram and cook for 30-60 seconds more, until fragrant. Transfer the onions to the pot. Add a couple of tablespoons of broth to the pan and scrape with a spatula all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan (that’s where all the flavor is!), add them to the pot.

Potatoes, broth, and sausages in a pot. Sour rye starter is being added to a pot.

STEP 5: Cook the potatoes: Add the potatoes to the pot. Bring the soup to a boil and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.

STEP 6: Add the sour rye starter. Stir the flour with the liquid and add to the soup (spices should be discarded). Make sure to add the starter gradually – trying the soup while you adding it, to make sure it’s not too sour for you (I always add the whole batch of my sour rye starter). Bring to a boil and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Note: sour rye starter contains many probiotic bacteria, lactic acid, and vitamins which are very healthy. This is basically a superfood, just like beet kvass, sauerkraut, cucumbers in brine, and kimchi (all naturally fermented foods). If you’d like not to lose these qualities, don’t bring the soup to a boil after adding the starter. It won’t change the taste of the soup but it will be just a little less thick. If you leave the soup overnight in the fridge it will become thick anyway (bringing the soup to a boil causes the flour to thicken the soup).

Cream is being added to a soup. Soup is being seasoned with marjoram.

STEP 7: Add the cream to the soup. Add the horseradish to your taste (I only added 1/2 of a teaspoon) – be careful when adding horseradish, it’s powerful and a little goes a long way.

STEP 8: Season the soup with salt, pepper, and reserved 1 teaspoon of marjoram – rub the marjoram between your palms to release its aroma.

Serve the soup with boiled eggs.

Enjoy!

Żurek soup is being ladled into a white-blue bowl.

How to serve it:

  • boiled eggs – a must!
  • potatoes (not everyone adds them but there are always in my żurek soup)
  • in Silesian region mashed potatoes are being served with this soup
Two bowls with Żurek soup with kielbasa, eggs, and potatoes in a white-blue bowl.

Storage:

This soup is perfect to make ahead. Tastes better the next day, I liked it most on the third day actually!

You can also freeze it before adding the cream (the cream will curdle).

Did you make this recipe? RATE THE RECIPE or tell me in the COMMENTS how you liked it! You can also add a photo of your dish. It would make me very happy and will help other readers. Thank you!!

Żurek recipe – Polish sour rye soup

Żurek is an amazing Polish soup made with white sausage, smoked meat, and sour liquid made from fermented rye flour. Please note that the sour rye starter you need to make for this soup needs to be made 5 days in advance !!
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Żurek soup with potatoes and eggs in a white-blue bowl.
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Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
fermenting the sour rye starter 5 days
Total Time 5 days 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Calories 558kcal
Author Aleksandra

Ingredients

for the sour rye starter:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup (110g) medium or dark rye flour spooned and leveled
  • garlic
  • bay leaves
  • allspice berries
  • black peppercorns
  • 2-3 pieces dried mushrooms can be omitted

for the soup:

  • 7 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon frying oil
  • 7 oz (200g) smoked thick-cut bacon
  • 14 oz (400g) Polish white sausage (biała kiełbasa) raw/uncooked or cooked/scalded
  • 3.5 oz (100g) smoked Polish sausage (kiełbasa) any type as long as it's smoked
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1.5 lbs (750g) potatoes
  • whole batch sour rye or to taste
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream 30-36%
  • 1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish in a jar or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

to serve:

  • 8 eggs

Instructions

Make the sour rye starter:

  • Clean a large jar with soap water then scald it with boiling water (it’s not completely necessary but it prevents from growing unwanted bacteria species). Fill the jar with 3 cups of boiled and cooled water.
  • Slowly add flour to the jar, stirring constantly with a spoon until combined (your spoon should be very clean or scalded). What to do if there are lumps: stir it a little bit longer but if it doesn’t help, take out large lumps and leave small ones, they will dissolve the next day.
  • Add all the spices and cut in half garlic cloves, stir again.
  • Close the jar and leave it in a dry place at room temperature (72-75°F / 22-24°C), it should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Open the jar once a day to release gases and stir the liquid with a very clean or scalded spoon.
  • The rye starter should be ready after 5 days. It should have a pleasant acidic smell and taste. It tastes more sour with each day, but don’t leave it longer than 7 days. When it’s ready, strain the spices, and pour the liquid and flour into a small pot, cover it with plastic foil, and put in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. You will need the liquid and flour for the soup, discard all the spices.

Make the soup:

  • Cook the white sausage: Heat the broth, when hot add the raw white sausages and simmer over very low heat for 15-20 minutes (if you have already cooked sausage omit this step and just slice them like in the next step).
  • Chop all the meats: Take the sausages out of the broth and cut them into slices. Cut the smoked sausage into 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubes and bacon into small cubes. Dice the onion, press the garlic through a garlic press, peel the potatoes, and cut them into 1-inch (2.5cm) chunks.
  • Brown all the meats: heat the oil in a large frying pan. When hot, add all the chopped meat and sausages. Cook over high heat for a couple of minutes until nicely browned. Add all the meats to the pot with broth.
  • Cook the onions, garlic, and marjoram: Add the onions to the pan and cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and 1 tablespoon of marjoram and cook for 30-60 seconds more, until fragrant. Transfer the onions to the pot. Add a couple of tablespoons of broth to the pan and scrape with a spatula all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan (that’s where all the flavor is!), add them to the pot.
  • Cook the potatoes: Add the potatoes to the pot. Bring the soup to a boil and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
  • Add the sour rye starter. Stir the flour with the liquid and add to the soup (spices should be discarded). Make sure to add the starter gradually – trying the soup while you adding it, to make sure it’s not too sour for you (I always add the whole batch of my sour rye starter). Bring to a boil and simmer for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the cream to the soup. Add the horseradish to your taste (I only added 1/2 of a teaspoon) – be careful when adding horseradish, it’s powerful and a little goes a long way.
  • Season the soup with salt, pepper, and reserved 1 teaspoon of marjoram – rub the marjoram between your palms to release its aroma.
  • Serve the soup with boiled eggs.
  • Enjoy!

Notes

  • Ingredient notes:
    • sour rye starter can not be substituted or omitted!
    • Polish white sausage is important in this recipe but if you can’t find it use any kind of smoked Polish sausage you can find
    • smoked meats can be omitted – just add more white sausage instead
    • prepared horseradish can be omitted but I recommend adding it!
    • potatoes are also optional
  • Storage: This soup is perfect to make ahead. Tastes better the next day, I liked it most on the third day actually! You can also freeze it before adding the cream (the cream will curdle).
  • Calories = 1 serving (1/8 of the recipe). This is only an estimate!
Course Soup
Cuisine polish
Keyword polish easter soup, polish sour rye soup, zurek recipe

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