There is no Easter in Poland without żurek. It might not be the most sophisticated soup but if the flavours are balanced nicely, it does taste amazing. There are many varieties of żurek, depending on the region of Poland or even on the family. Can be served with mashed potatoes or boiled potatoes or with hard-boiled eggs and sausage.
But Easter Żurek tradition is the same everywhere in Poland.
Before the Easter Saturday or on the Saturday morning, families (usually kids) paint the eggs. There are many techniques of making pisanki (Easter eggs), but my family has always used onion peels. Onion peels, cooked together with eggs, will give the egg shells beautiful, maroon colour. Have a look here.
With the eggs painted, a family prepares a basket which will be taken to church on the Easter Saturday in order to receive blessings for the food. There is a number of foods which must be placed in the basket, each having a symbolic meaning. The tradition of getting food blessed had begun in the 14th century (in Poland), when people started taking a lamb, made out of bread to the church with them on the Easter Saturday. With the time being, people’s baskets had become richer; now there are 7 traditional food items which should be in everyone’s Easter Basket, each of them with a symbolic meaning.
Firstly, bread (chleb), symbolises Jesus Christ and the Last Supper. It’s supposed to guarantee prosperity and satiety.
Secondly, an egg (jajko), a symbol of life and resurrecting Jesus.
Third, salt, represents purification; salt is also supposed to have the power of deterring evil.
Fourth, ham, sausage and bacon (szynka, kiełbasa i boczek). Symbols of abundance, fertility and health. Years ago, not everyone could afford meat, so people tried to have at least a slice of ham in their Easter baskets.
Fifth, horseradish (chrzan), symbolises physical strength and sturdiness. The tradition says that every member of the family (including kids) should eat some horseradish during Easter to protect themselves from stomach ache, tooth ache and coughs. Horseradish is also a symbol of the bitter sacrifice of Christ.
Sixth, lamb (baranek), usually made out of cake dough. Symbolises Jesus Christ. Is also a symbol of a good housewife, who is organised and skilled enough to bake.
Seventh, sometimes forgotten nowadays, cheese (ser). Symbolises a friendship between humans and nature. Supposed to provide well-being for all the animals in the household, because it’s them who provides us with milk to make cheese and other dairy products.
The tradition is called Święconka. All the foods blessed on the Easter Saturday should be used to prepare a festive breakfast on Easter Sunday. The main and most important dish will be żurek, made out of sausage, bacon and ham blessed a day before, served with eggs, bread and horseradish.
Żurek is a sour rye soup, made out of soured rye flour (most people nowadays buy a ready mix in the supermarket though) and meat. I have decided to make my own leaven (soured rye flour) this year and it turned out very nice. Let me guide you through a secret ways of żurek making.
ŻUREK WIELKANOCNY (POLISH SOUR RYE SOUP)
for the leaven
500ml tepid, previously boiled water
100g rye flour
3 cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
5 allspice berries
5 black peppercorns
for the soup
2l of vegetable or meat stock
500ml soured rye leaven
homemade ham (optional)
1 garlic clove
3 tbsp of cream
hard-boiled eggs, horseradish sauce to serve with
HOW TO MAKE?
1. We start our Easter preparations from making a leaven for żurek. It needs to be done 4-5 days before Easter Sunday, that’s how much time the fermentation process needs to make our soured rye, the very core of the soup. Prepare a big jar. Add the rye flour, allspice, peppercorns and garlic to the jar and pour 500ml of tepid water over everything. Stir thoroughly, cover with a cloth and set aside, preferably in some warm place in your house, like the kitchen for instance.
2. Leave for 4-5 days, stirring once or twice a day. Watch carefully if there is no mould on the surface. If you notice any, you have to throw everything away and start afresh.
3. After 4-5 days, when your leaven is ready, you can start making an actual soup. Or you can pour it into a bottle, screw it and keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
4. To make żurek, you need to start from heating up the stock. While the stock is still not ready, cut bacon (boczek) into small cubes. Throw it onto the frying pan and fry until the meat releases the fat. If the bacon is not fat enough, add some oil or lard. Throw chopped onions in and cook just until golden, don’t burn it.
5. Add everything from the pan into the pot with stock (if it’s already warm). Add whole sausages (do not cut it into pieces!) and sliced ham and let it simmer on low heat for 30-40 minutes.
6. After that time, add the soured rye (leaven). Don’t add everything at once, it might turn out too sour. Add little by little, tasting the soup after each addition. Sometimes you will need only a half of the amount from the recipe, depending on how sour your leaven is.
7. Add slightly crushed clove of garlic (just press it with a knife against the cutting board, until it crushes) and marjoram. There is no żurek without marjoram. Add about 1 tablespoon of it, put it between your hands and rub your hands together to crush it; this way it will release more flavours and aromas.
8. Cook the soup for few more minutes. Take it off the heat and add the cream. Don’t add the cream straight to the soup though. Add the cream to a mug, take a ladle of soup out of the pot and mix it with cream in the mug. This way, the cream will have similar temperature as the soup, so when you add it to the pot it won’t curdle.
9. Serve with hard-boiled egg, cut into quarters, sliced sausage (from the soup) and ham. Tastes best with homemade horseradish sauce with egg.