Sour rye soup with smoked pork

Sour rye soup with smoked pork

Żurek na wędzonce

Borsch, Vodka and Tears
Bonnie Savage

Also known as white borsch, this soup is a testament to resourcefulness. When there is nothing to eat, a little rye flour mixed with water can yield a delicious meal. The word żurek is a diminutive of ‘sour’, so the name of the soup means something like ‘the little sour one’. It comes and goes on the menu at Borsch. Polish people are delighted to see it and order it immediately. It’s a harder sell to other customers who find the idea of fermented rye soup a little challenging. I find that odd, given the reception for other Polish products made from fermented grains, such as rye bread, beer and vodka!

Żurek is widely lauded as a hangover cure (every drinking culture has one!) and can be eaten in a variety of ways: meat-free during Lent when people typically deprive themselves; with boiled eggs in summer; or with mashed potato, spring onion and chopped crispy bacon in winter. You can substitute smoked kiełbasa, kransky, csabai or a combination of your favourites for the sausage in this recipe.

This dish has two main components, a starter and a stock. You will need to prepare the starter three to five days ahead. If you want, you can substitute a smoked hock for the bacon bones in the stock and double the recipe. The other half will freeze for up to three months.


Quantity Ingredient


Quantity Ingredient
120 grams rye flour
750m boiling water
rye bread, (optional)
1 lactobacillus acidophilus capsule, (optional) (see note)


Quantity Ingredient
500ml smoked bacon bones
150 grams parsnip, peeled and coarsely chopped
150 grams celeriac, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 brown onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 allspice berries
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 bay leaf
garlic, halved, plus 3 extra, crushed
800 grams white pork sausage (kiełbasa biała surowa)


  1. To make the starter, mix together the flour and water in a meticulously clean bowl or jar, to form a paste. Place the bread on top, if using, or open the capsule and empty the contents into the starter. Cover with a clean damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for 3–5 days until the mixture starts to smell sour and fermented. If any mould forms, just scrape it off with a metal spoon.
  2. To make the stock, put the bones in a large saucepan or stockpot and cover with 3 litres cold water. Place over medium heat until it is simmering and skim off any fat that rises to the surface. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the sausages and crushed garlic, and simmer for 4 hours. Add the sausages and simmer for a further 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Strain the stock, reserving the sausages and bacon bones and discarding the vegetables. Once cool, slice the sausages and pick the meat from the bacon bones and set aside.
  3. Return the strained stock to the pan and bring to a simmer. Whisk the rye starter and pour it slowly into the simmering stock, whisking constantly. When the entire starter has been incorporated and it is simmering again, the soup should be thickened and a pale opaque colour. Add the sausage and reserved meat, season with salt, pepper and the crushed garlic, to taste. Simmer for 1 minute further — the end result should be sour, salty and smoky. Alternatively, you can keep the sausages whole and put 1 in each person’s bowl then ladle the soup over the top.


  • Lactobacillus acidophilus capsules are available from most pharmacies; they usually keep them in a little refrigerator. I use them whenever I’m making a sourdough starter as they improve the flavour. Alive, the bacteria are also very good for you and aid digestion.
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