1 kielbasa* (about 1 lb), sliced into half-moons
2 carrots, sliced into coins
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small celeriac (celery root, diced)
2 parsnips, diced
1 onion, diced
1 1/2 quart stock (chicken, pork or vegetable)
2 bay leaves
żurek or zakwas starter**
freshly ground black pepper
big pinch marjoram (dried or fresh)
4-6 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the sausage until lightly browned. Add the vegetables and saute until the onion is softened. Add the broth, bay leaves and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in spices. Remove the bay leaves. Stir in the starter and heat through, about 5-10 minutes.
Ladle into bowls and top with quartered hard-boiled eggs.
*I used kiełbasa wiejska because it’s my favorite and has garlic and marjoram in it.
**You can find this bottled at most Polish markets. The one I find most easily is made with white flour, called żurek. I’ve seen both refrigerated (preferred) and shelf-stable versions. I used a 32 oz bottle of fresh starter. Zakwas is basically the same thing but made with rye flour. You can also make it home using these instructions (in Polish, the Google translation is good enough). There is a lot of debate (even in Poland, apparently) about what the differences between soup made with one or the other should be but they are very similar–sausage, vegetables, eggs. You can read a bit about it here.
I’ve wanted to make this soup for quite a while now. My usual Polish market has been closed for a few months while they renovate the Broadway Market so I didn’t have access to my usual sausage. Then last week, I was driving down Eastern Ave and saw another Polish market that I had heard of but had never been to before. They had not only the sausage I liked but the żurek (starter) in the refrigerator. Score!
I’m going to be honest here and say I really can’t speak to how strictly authentic this is. I had it years ago at a festival and while my aunt made several Polish dishes, soup was not one of them.
I’ve read dozens of recipes in both English and Polish (my Polish is mostly food and color words so it was a slog and Google translate is not always the best) for zurek (the soup, not żurek, the starter which is nearly identical in spelling but is not the same–that is not a speck on your screen, it is an overdot) and biały barszcz (“white borscht”) which are two very similar soups but biały barszcz seems to be a bit lighter and is made with fresh, kielbasa biały (white sausage) and is popular at Easter. I came across so many articles saying conflicting information (in Polish!) and that there are regional differences.
I ended up going a little rogue and using the white flour-based żurek but with a more veggie-heavy soup with smoked sausage instead of tracking down the rye starter or making my own. It’s still winter. The rye starter is a bit heavier and would be in good use here too. This is only my experience but it seems like it is easier to source żurek (especially fresh, refrigerated) here than zakwas.
Several of the Polish-language recipes called for parsley root which we don’t really get here readily, so I subbed in celeriac (celery root) because I love celery and celery flavored things. Other recipes just called generically for mixed root vegetables or even just carrots. I think with homey soups like this, it really comes down to you and your family’s personal preference and tastes.
Additionally, many of the Polish language recipes for both dishes had you make vegetable (or pork) stock first, then adding more vegetables, and some of the vegetables from the stock back in to make the soup but since I have access to good quality homemade and store-bought stock, I skipped this step and went right to soup making. This speed up the process to being quick enough to make on a weeknight.
Honestly, all this made my head spin a bit. However, it was worth it because the soup was extremely delicious! It wasn’t as sour as say, sauerkraut, but it had a tang similar to sour cream or mild yogurt without being tart. The smoked sausage perfectly offset it and the root vegetables added a lot of depth. It was hearty without being heavy. I look forward to making more soups using this starter! Maybe I will track down some fresh sausage and make biały barszcz in the spring.