BY JULIA BRODER
“When my mom cooks and shares these dishes with me, she passes on the traditions and cultural heritage she left behind in Poland. They live on in a new way with our family in America. These recipes serve to preserve our cultural identity. Now, when I make the Ambrozek’s Żurek, I play a critical role in sharing my family’s traditions and passing along our history to the next generation.”
Like most first-generation Americans, I grew up attending many large multi-generational family occasions. These Polish parties and celebrations provided a much-needed release from the stress and challenges of adapting to a new country. They gave families an opportunity to come together and connect with one another to provide vital support, share stories, build relationships, and most importantly, eat traditional foods. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate and understand the impact of those gatherings.
For many immigrants, the food they make in their home is a reminder of the life they left behind and a connection to their roots. In my family, these foods were most often cooked at holiday gatherings such as Christmas Eve or Easter. Those holidays were inextricable from the food we ate. As kids, my cousins and I would dread the fishy, tart pickled herring that we eventually grew to love and appreciate. To this day, I still pick around ‘Kluski z Makiem’ (boiled noodles with poppy seed) to trick my mother into thinking I’ve had a bite. Yet there was one dish I waited anxiously for each Easter: Żurek.
Żurek is a traditional fermented rye soup. It is a sour, rich soup full of potatoes, sausage, and hardboiled eggs. Simplified versions were often served in polish worker cafeterias called bar mleczny. The popular, decadent version served with kiełbasa (polish sausage) were prepared on important holidays, most commonly Easter. Żurek is closely related to white borscht, another popular Eastern European soup (though, not quite as tasty in my opinion). Unlike the borscht, the distinct sour taste of Żurek is due to the Zakwas used to flavor the soup. Zakwas is like sourdough starter. It is a fermented rye starter sold in small, plastic jugs at most Polish delis. When I was a kid, I was given the coveted job of shaking the zakwas before pouring it into the pot.
A few years back, I called up my mom and demanded she share our family’s recipe for Żurek. Naturally, her response was, “I don’t have a recipe. I just do it.” I relented and drove home. Like an attentive student, I studied my mother making her Żurek. When my mom cooks and shares these dishes with me, she passes on the traditions and cultural heritage she left behind in Poland. They live on in a new way with our family in America. These recipes serve to preserve our cultural identity. Now, when I make the Ambrozek’s Żurek, I play a critical role in sharing my family’s traditions and passing along our history to the next generation.
Ambrozek’s Recipe for Polish Żurek
- 6 c. filtered water or broth of choice (chicken or vegetable)
- 500 ml of Sakwas (Polish Fermented Rye Flour Starter – can be purchased at any Polish or Eastern European deli)
- 1 large link (or two regular links) of white kielbasa (Polish white sausage)
- 1 regular link of plain kielbasa (Polish sausage)
- 1 16 oz. bag of small yellow or red potatoes
- 6-8 eggs
- 2-3 shallots
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp Marjoram
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- Salt/pepper to taste
- Take 6 cups of filtered water and/or preferred broth and pour into a stock pot set on medium-high heat. Add two bay leaves, 1 tbsp marjoram, 1 tsp garlic power, and salt/pepper. Bring contents to a low boil.
- Turn down temperature to low. Add one full large link of white kielbasa in full. Add one regular link of plain kielbasa cut into diagonal pieces.
- Simmer for 30 minutes.
- In separate pots, bring water to boil and boil cut potatoes until tender. Boil eggs until hardboiled. Set aside.
- Remove the link of white kielbasa, cut into diagonal pieces, and set aside.
- Add full bottle of sakwas. Make sure to shake the bottle well and add all the liquid and sediment into the pot. Return the cut-up white kielbasa back into the soup and mix well. Increase temperature to medium-low and allow the soup to gently cook until sakwas is entirely combined.
- In a pan, add a small pad of butter and the finely chopped shallots. Sautee the shallots until they are crispy and browned. Remove from pan and mix into the soup.
- Turn off heat.
- The hardboiled eggs should be halved and add desired amount to individual servings along with the boiled potatoes. Additional toppings include finely chopped pickles and parsley to garnish.
- Smacznego! Enjoy!