Polish Sour Rye Soup Recipe – Zurek 

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I bet you never tried Sour Rye Soup – Zurek?  

This soup, with its tangy flavor and rich texture, it’s sure to hit the spot when you are in need of some comfort. Yes, you can cozy up in a warm blanket, but I tell you this soup is much better. Traditionally prepared for Easter, Zurek can be enjoyed year round.

Zurek Soup in a serving bowl with hard boiled egg, piece of bread, small dish with horseradish, spoon, fork, cut up egg on a small plate

There are two key ingredients that make up the unique flavor of this soup.

Zakwas – Fermented rye flour starter and White Sausage (Polish White Kielbasa). You do need to plan ahead (at least a week) to make the Zakwas. The rest of making Zurek Soup is pretty straight forward, one pan an hour or so.

This soul-warming Polish Rye Soup taste like a comforting hug in a bread bowl. It is perfect for cozying up on chilly days or anytime you need a hearty pick-me-up. Have you made it  before, or is this your first dive into the delicious depths of Zurek? 

Zurek Soup in a serving bowl with hard boiled egg, piece of bread, small dish with horseradish, spoon, fork, cut up egg on a small plate

Why you will love this Zurek Polish Sour Rye Soup: 

  • Flavor – Zurek has a unique tangy flavor derived from the sour rye starter (zakwas), which sets it apart from other soups. This distinctive taste, combined with the richness of ingredients like bacon or sausage, creates a deeply satisfying flavor profile.
  • Comfort – like many traditional soups, Zurek provides warmth and comfort. It is perfect for cold weather or when you need a comforting, hearty meal. 
  • Cultural Significance – Zurek is deeply rooted in Polish culinary tradition and is often associated with holidays and special occasions, such as Easter. Its presence on the table brings a sense of tradition and nostalgia, making it a cherished dish for many Polish families.
  • Versatility – While Zurek has its traditional ingredients, it’s also a versatile dish that can be customized. Whether you prefer it with boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, or a dollop of sour cream, there are many ways to enjoy Żurek and make it your own.
  • Homemade Goodness – Making Zurek from scratch, especially preparing the zakwas, requires time and effort, but the result is worth it. There’s a sense of satisfaction and pride in creating this traditional dish from start to finish, making it even more enjoyable to savor.

Ingredients, variations, substitutions

For the Soup

Broth – base of the soup, typically made from water or chicken/beef broth. For a richer flavor, you can use homemade broth or low-sodium store-bought broth to control the salt content. Vegetable or mushroom broth can be used for a vegetarian version of the soup.

White SausagePolish White Kielbasa –  a traditional Polish sausage made from pork and seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, and other spices. Polish White Kielbasa is a key ingredient in authentic Zurek, but if unavailable, you can substitute it with any other cooked or Polish white sausage of your choice. Any type of cooked sausage, such as smoked sausage or bratwurst, can be used as a substitute. For vegetarian option use mushrooms.

Smoked Sausage or bacon – recommend using one or the other to avoid overpowering the soup with smoky flavor. If using bacon, you can substitute with pancetta or smoked turkey bacon for a healthier option. Omit for vegetarian version or use veggies of your choice to add substance, texture and flavor to the soup.

Zakwas – a sourdough starter made from sour rye flour, water, and sometimes bread, fermented for several days to develop a tangy flavor. Plan ahead, as making zakwas requires several days of fermentation. If you don’t have time to make zakwas from scratch, you can use a commercial sour rye starter or substitute with buttermilk for a similar tangy flavor. Dill pickle juice can also work in a pinch.

Onion – diced finely or chopped coarsely, depending on personal preference. Shallots or leeks can be used as a great substitute.

Olive Oil – used for sautéing onions. Butter or vegetable oil can be used as a substitute for olive oil

Allspice – use whole allspice berries for the best flavor. You can also crush them lightly before adding to release their aroma. To substitute whole allspice berries, use a combination of ground cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

Bay Leaf – adds herbal flavor to the soup. Use dried or fresh and remember to remove them before serving. 

Marjoram – aromatic herb with a flavor similar to oregano, but milder and sweeter. Use dried marjoram sparingly, as its flavor can be quite strong. If marjoram is unavailable, you can substitute with dried thyme or oregano.

Heavy Whipping Cream – finishing touch to Zurek; adds richness and creaminess to the soup. Stir in the cream at the end of cooking to prevent curdling. Half-and-half, milk or plant based milk can be used as a lighter alternative to heavy whipping cream. You can also use sour cream or Greek yogurt. I would recommend mixing it first with a ½ cup of broth (cooled slightly) before incorporating it into the soup.

Salt, pepper to taste – add gradually and adjust to taste. Use any type of salt and pepper preferred, such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For the Zakwas

ingredients to make Zakwas

Rye flour – Rye flour serves as the base for the sourdough starter, providing nutrients for the fermentation process. Choose a good quality flour, preferably whole grain, for the best results. Whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour can be used as a substitute for rye flour, although the flavor may differ slightly.

Water – Water is essential for activating the fermentation process and hydrating the flour. Use boiled and cooled water to ensure it’s free from impurities and at room temperature for the fermentation process. Use filtered or spring water can be

Garlic cloves – crushed garlic cloves add flavor and aroma to the zakwas. Use fresh garlic cloves for the best flavor, and crush them before adding to release their aroma. Not a fan of fresh garlic, use garlic powder for a milder.

Allspice berries, whole – add warm, sweet, and peppery flavor notes to the zakwas. Crush the allspice berries lightly before adding to release their aroma. A combination of ground cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg can be used as a substitute for whole allspice berries.

Peppercorns – add a spicy and pungent flavor to the zakwas. Use whole peppercorns for the best flavor, and crush them lightly before adding to release their aroma. Ground black pepper can be used as a substitute

Dried, wild mushrooms – add umami depth and earthy flavor. If possible choose a variety of dried wild mushrooms, such as porcini or shiitake, for the best flavor. If not available, omit.

Marjoram – aromatic herb with a flavor similar to oregano but milder and sweeter. If marjoram is unavailable, you can substitute with dried thyme or oregano.

What is Zakwas – Sour Rye Flour Starter

It is a sourdough starter that serves as a key ingredient in traditional Polish Zurek soup. It’s essentially a mixture of fermented rye flour, water, and sometimes bread, enriched with aromatic ingredients like garlic, allspice, and dried mushrooms. 

Zakwas undergoes a fermentation process over several days, developing a tangy flavor and contributing to the characteristic taste of Zurek. It gives the soup its unique sour flavor and cannot be skipped. 

front view of jar with sour rye zakwas

Why do we need Zakwas to make Żurek? 

Flavor – Zakwas provides Zurek with its distinctive tangy flavor, adding depth and complexity to the soup. This unique taste sets Zurek apart from other soups.

Acidity – The acidity from the zakwas helps to balance the richness of the soup’s ingredients, such as white sausage and bacon, creating a harmonious flavor profile.

Fermentation – The fermentation process of zakwas not only develops its characteristic tanginess but also contributes to the soup’s overall complexity and depth of flavor.

Cultural Tradition – Zakwas has been used in Polish cuisine for generations, making it an integral part of the culinary tradition associated with Zurek. Its inclusion in the soup recipe honors this cultural heritage and ensures an authentic flavor experience.

Equipment you will need

  • Large stock pot
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Skillet
  • Cutting board
  • Chef’s knife
  • Wooden spoon or spatula for mixing
  • Ladle for serving
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Glass container for the Zakwas
  • Cheesecloth or kitchen towel
  • Rubber Band or string
  • Whisk or spoon

Step by step to make Zakwas

  • Use sanitized glass container (see instructions below)
  • Measure all the ingredients
  • To the glass container add boiled and cooled water and flour. Whisk until well combined.

  • Add the rest of the ingredients and using clean spoon stir to combine.
  • Cover with cheesecloth or kitchen towel, secure with rubber band ort string.

  • Place on the counter and keep at room temperature (60–75°F / 16–25°C).
  • Daily remove the cover and stir all the ingredients.
  • On day 3 add ½ cup rye flour and 1 cup boiled and cooled water. Stir well to combine.

  • Cover and set aside for another 3-4 days.
  • The Zakwas is ready when you can smell tangy aroma and see bubbles (active fermentation) on the surface. Also it will become cloudy and you will notice sedimentation at the bottom of the container. 
  • The fermentation process of zakwas typically takes 2-3 days at room temperature (around 70-75°F or 21-24°C). However, the exact timing will vary depending on the ambient temperature, the activity of the bacteria, and the specific recipe used. Monitor the zakwas regularly during fermentation and adjust the timing as needed.

How to sanitize glass container for Zakwas:

  • Start by washing the glass container thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Use a clean sponge or dishcloth to scrub the inside and outside of the container.
  • Rinse the glass container with hot water to remove any soap residue.
  • Boil a pot of water on the stove.
  • Carefully pour the boiling water into the glass container, ensuring that it covers all surfaces inside the container.
  • Allow the hot water to sit in the container for a few minutes to sanitize the surface.
  • After soaking, remove the glass container from the water.
  • Allow the glass container to air dry completely before using it.
Zurek Soup in a serving bowl with hard boiled egg, piece of bread, small dish with horseradish, spoon, fork, cut up egg on a small plate

Top Tips for making Zurek

Use quality ingredients, especially for the sausage, bacon, and spices, as they contribute significantly to the flavor of the soup.

Plan ahead and make the zakwas (sour rye starter) a few days in advance to allow it to ferment and develop its tangy flavor fully.

Allow the sour soup to simmer gently over low heat to fully develop its flavors. This slow cooking process helps meld the ingredients together and creates a rich, flavorful broth.

Taste the soup before serving and adjust the seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. Remember that the zakwas will add some acidity to the soup, so be sure to balance the flavors accordingly.

Feel free to customize the soup with additional ingredients such as potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, or sour cream according to your personal preference.

Garnish Before Serving –  fresh herbs like parsley or dill just before serving to enhance the presentation and add a burst of freshness to the dish.

Step by Step to make Zurek

  • To a large stock pot add the liquid of your choice. I used homemade chicken broth. 
  • Add white sausages and bacon if using (or other type of sausage), bay leaves and allspice. 
  • Cook on medium low for 30-45 minutes. Using a slotted spoon remove any scum from the surface.

  • Remove the sausages, set aside to cool slightly. Remove the casing (if necessary) from the sausages. Chop and dice them into bite size pieces. Return to the stock pot.

  • Peel and dice the onion. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes
  • Add marjoram. 
  • Add to the stock pot. Continue simmering on low heat. 

  • Prepare the Zakwas. Stir it so there are no lumps. Measure the desired amount and strain it through a sieve. Gradually pour the strained zakwas into the pot, stirring continuously to incorporate it into the soup..
  • Simmer for a few more minutes to let the flavors meld.
  • Finish by adding heavy whipping cream (or alternative of your choice) to add richness and creaminess to the soup. Adjust the amount based on desired consistency and flavor.
  • Check for seasoning and add salt, pepper if needed.
  • Serve the Żurek soup hot topped with hard boiled egg. Garnish with fresh parsley, dill and optionally horseradish. 
Zurek Soup in a serving bowl with hard boiled egg, piece of bread, small dish with horseradish, spoon, fork, cut up egg on a small plate, hands in frame holding spoon and piece of bread

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Storage and Reheating instructions for Żurek

  • Storage:
    • Allow the Żurek soup to cool completely before storing.
    • Transfer any leftover soup to an airtight container.
    • Store the soup in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
  • Reheating:
    • To reheat Żurek soup, transfer desired portion to a pot or microwave-safe bread bowl.
    • If the soup has thickened upon cooling, you may need to add a splash of water or broth to reach the desired consistency.
    • Heat the soup gently over medium-low heat on the stovetop, stirring occasionally, until heated through.
    • Alternatively, you can reheat the soup in the microwave in 1-minute intervals, stirring in between, until heated to your liking.
    • Once heated through, ladle the hot soup into bowls and serve.

Storage Instructions for Zakwas:

  • Storage:
    • Once the zakwas has fermented to your desired tanginess, transfer it to a clean glass jar.
    • Seal the jar tightly with a lid and store it in the refrigerator.
    • Zakwas can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks to several months, depending on the level of acidity and your personal preference.
    • When needed simply remove the desired amount of zakwas from the refrigerator and pour it directly into the pot when making Zurek soup according to your recipe.

Zurek Soup in a serving bowl with hard boiled egg, piece of bread, small dish with horseradish, spoon, fork, cut up egg on a small plate

Polish Sour-Rye Soup – Żurek

Sylwia Vaclavek
This soup, with its tangy flavor and rich texture, it's sure to hit the spot when you are in need of some comfort. Polish tradition at its best. Must try!
No ratings yet
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Making Zakwas 5 days
Course Soup
Cuisine Polish
Servings 6
Calories 550 kcal

Equipment

  • large stock pot
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • skillet
  • cutting board
  • chef's knife
  • spatula for mixing
  • ladle for serving
  • strainer
  • glass container for zakwas
  • cheesecloth or kitchen towel
  • rubber band or string
  • whisk or spoon

Ingredients
 
 

  • 8 cups broth
  • 2 ¼ cups 500ml of zakwas – Sour Rye Flour Starter
  • 1 lbs of kielbasa
  • 1 lbs of bacon or smoked sausage
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp Marjoram
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 allspice
  • Salt, pepper

For Zakwas

  • ½ cup of rye flour +½ cup
  • 2 cups of boiled and cooled water +1 cup
  • 3 garlic cloves crushed
  • 3 allspice berries whole
  • 15 peppercorns
  • 3 pieces of dried wild mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp marjoram

Instructions
 

  • To a large stock pot add the liquid of your choice. I used homemade chicken broth.
  • Add sausages and bacon (if using), bay leaves and allspice.
  • Cook on medium low for 30-45 minutes. Using a slotted spoon remove any scum from the surface.
  • Remove the sausages, set aside to cool slightly. Remove the casing (if necessary) from the sausages. Chop and dice them into bite size pieces. Return to the stock pot.
  • Peel and dice the onion. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes
  • Add the cooked onions to the stock pot. Continue simmering on low heat.
  • Add marjoram to the soup.
  • Prepare the Zakwas. Stir it so there are no lumps. Measure the desired amount and strain it through a sieve. Gradually pour the strained zakwas into the pot, stirring continuously to incorporate it into the soup..
  • Simmer for a few more minutes to let the flavors meld.
  • Finish by adding heavy whipping cream (or alternative of your choice) to add richness and creaminess to the soup. Adjust the amount based on desired consistency and flavor.
  • Check for seasoning and add salt, pepper if needed.
  • Serve the Zurek soup hot topped with hard boiled egg. Garnish with fresh parsley, dill and optionally horseradish.

Notes

Plan ahead if making Zakwas at home, you need 5-7 days to prepare it. 
Allow the soup to simmer gently over low heat to fully develop its flavors. This slow cooking process helps meld the ingredients together and creates a rich, flavorful broth.
Taste the soup before serving and adjust the seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. Remember that the zakwas will add some acidity to the soup, so be sure to balance the flavors accordingly

Nutrition

Serving: 1.5cupCalories: 550kcalCarbohydrates: 10gProtein: 20gFat: 47gSaturated Fat: 17gPolyunsaturated Fat: 5gMonounsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 115mgSodium: 2564mgPotassium: 385mgFiber: 1gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 835IUVitamin C: 3mgCalcium: 44mgIron: 3mg
Keyword easter, sour polish rye soup, sour rye soup, zurek
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Did you make this recipe?

zurek in soup bowls served with biala kielbasa

Conclusion

Did I get a little drool? a tiny one? no shame, I completely understand and can relate. Żurek soup will do that to you. Yes, you need to plan ahead, especially when making zakwas at home, but that is so easy. With the top tips and step by step instructions I guarantee making Żurek will be on a repeat in your kitchen.

FAQ about Żurek

What is Żurek soup?

Żurek soup, also known as żurek or sour rye soup, is a traditional and very popular Polish soup made from fermented rye flour starter (zakwas), broth, and various ingredients such as sausage, bacon, vegetables, and spices.

What does Żurek soup taste like?

Żurek soup has a tangy and slightly sour flavor due to the fermentation of the flour in the zakwas. It is often described as hearty, savory, and comforting, with rich umami notes from the meats and spices.

How is Żurek soup traditionally served?

Żurek soup is typically served hot and garnished with halved hard-boiled eggs, fresh parsley, and sometimes dill. It may also be accompanied by a dollop of sour cream or a sprinkling of horseradish for added flavor.

What are the main ingredients in Żurek soup?

The main ingredients in Żurek soup include zakwas (fermented dark rye flour), broth (such as chicken or beef), Polish white sausage (White Kielbasa), smoked sausage or bacon, onion, spices (such as bay leaves, allspice, and marjoram), and heavy whipping cream.

How do you make zakwas for Żurek soup?

Zakwas is made by fermenting a mixture of flour, water, and sometimes bread, along with garlic, allspice, and dried mushrooms. The mixture is allowed to ferment at room temperature for several days until it becomes tangy and slightly bubbly. Click HERE to read more about how to make Zakwas.

Can I make Żurek soup without zakwas?

While traditional Żurek soup relies on zakwas for its distinctive flavor, it is possible to make a simplified version of the soup using sourdough bread or buttermilk as a substitute for zakwas. However, this may result in a slightly different flavor profile.

Is Żurek soup gluten-free?

Traditional Żurek soup made with zakwas is not gluten-free, as it contains flour. However, gluten-free versions of Żurek soup can be made using gluten-free flour alternatives or by omitting the zakwas altogether and using other flavoring agents.

What are some common variations of Żurek soup?

Common variations of Żurek soup include adding additional ingredients such as boiled potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, or hard-boiled eggs. Some regional variations may also incorporate different types of sausages or spices.

What is the origin of Żurek Soup? 

Żurek can be found throughout Poland, with each region having its unique version of the dish. Some regions serve their soup inside a bread bowl. In Polish Subcarpathia, their version of the dish called kisełycia is made using fermented oatmeal.

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