In Poland where I grew up, the fall starts around September and the cold season lasts till April or even May. No wonder we love soups of all kinds! They are so warming and easy on the tummy and can bring joy in the cold and dark months of the year.
One of my favorite soups that I still cook even in Southern California is Polish mushroom soup. I love it so much – and so is my American family – that I bring dried wild mushrooms every time I go visit my folks in Poland, or, if I cannot go myself, I have it either brought by someone traveling or sent by mail by my parents. A risky proposition since it’s food and as such should not be crossing borders, especially to California. Since I’m otherwise so proper, I kind of cherish this tiny act of rebellion. It’s all for the good food’s sake and to preserve ancient family traditions.
I see lots of recipes for Hungarian mushroom soup all over the Internet but almost none for the Polish kind. And it is so delicious! This post is to remedy this. I will share my recipe for the Polish mushroom soup and two other yummy “zupy” from my homeland that have become a staple in our American home. All these soups are not only delicious but also full of health benefits.
Featuring adaptogens, probiotics, and other beneficial veggies and superfoods, these are some truly gut healing soups.
Polish Mushroom Soup
This soup is so flavorful and aromatic, we deserve it for special occasions. Back in Poland, at my family home, we had this soup on Christmas Eve. Because in our Catholic tradition, Christmas eve dinner is meatless, we eat many dishes prepared with fish, cabbage, and mushrooms.
In the old days, the only way to get the mushrooms was to pick them yourself, dry them, and keep them till Christmas to use in many wonderful Christmas recipes (link). Or, if you were not very versed in the art of mushrooming, you could buy them from the knowledgable Babushkas in the countryside who knew very well which mushrooms were good to eat and which ones were poisonous.
My parents still go mushrooming and they make sure to keep a pound or so of dried porcini mushrooms for me to get in the summer when I visit. This is a lifesaver since dried mushrooms are exorbitantly expensive in the USA! You might have better luck finding cheaper options in ethnic stores (Polish, Russian, Armenian, Italian or Asian markets) than in “regular” American supermarkets.
I adore this soup not only because of the memories that come with it but also for its health benefits. Mushrooms of all kinds are very potent superfoods and it makes sense to include them in the diet whenever possible.
RELATED POST: Medicinal Mushrooms
The Polish mushroom soup is very simple to make as it has only a few ingredients:
- 4 ounces of dried mushrooms, such as Italian porcini or Polish borowiki (if you can find them)
- 3 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 small onion
- 1 TBS of butter or olive oil
- 1 cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup cooked egg noodles or barley, optional
1. Soak the mushrooms by covering them with two cups of hot water, let stand for an hour or more
2. Once they get soft and pliable, it is important to work through them with your hands in case there is any sand or dirt from the forest floor. Let stand another hour or so.
3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the reconstituted mushrooms from the liquid (but keep the liquid for the soup)
4. Cut up the mushroom in small strips.
5. Sieve the mushroom liquid through a small-gauge sieve to catch any sand or dirt.
1. Dice the onion and saute in butter or olive oil until translucent.
2. Add the mushrooms, the mushroom liquid, and the chicken stock (vegetable stock for vegetarian option)
3. Bring to boil, cover, and cook for 30-40 minutes.
4. Mix the flour with heavy cream in a separate bowl or cup. Once mixed, add a bit of the hot soup into the mixture and mix again so that no clumps of flour are left.
5. Pour the cream and flour mixture into the pot with soup, bring to a gentle boil, and simmer for a few minutes.
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Substitutions and additions
1. For a gluten-free mushroom soup, you can omit the flour and blend the entire soup with a blender which will give it a similar thickness as it would with the flour added. This will be more of a bisque version.
2. For a dairy-free mushroom soup, omit the cream or substitute it with a vegan alternative.
3. For an even heartier soup, add pearl barley or wild rice when you start cooking the mushrooms. By the time the soup is ready, the barley or rice will be soft as well.
4. For those who like pasta, serve the soup with egg noodles inside. So yummy!
More Hearty and Gut-Healing Fall Soups
There are many other yummy treats aside from the Polish mushroom soup from my ancestral country. Here are two of my favorites – both very, very Polish, but easily adaptable to enjoyment abroad.
Zurek (Fermented Rye-Flour Soup)
You might be asking now, wait what? Fermented rye flour? It is easier to make than it sounds, and it comes with the added bonus of healthy probiotics.
RELATED POST: Fermented Foods For Health
There is probably nothing more traditionally Polish than Zurek – the sour rye soup served with or without Polish sausage and hard-boiled egg. Whereas mushroom soup is a Christmas tradition, Zurek is served in many Polish homes for Easter.
In order to make Zurek, you need to make the sour rye starter first. Here is a good and easy recipe for the starter (zakwas) that is ready within 4-5 days (but it takes only 5 minutes to prepare)
Aside from the sour rye starter, the ingredients for the soup are very easy to get by.
- 1-2 cups of the starter
- 2-3 strips of bacon (optional)
- 1 onion
- 2 clove of garlic
- 2-3 dried mushrooms
- 2 bay leaves
- 4-5 allspice berries (whole)
- 2 TBS dried marjoram
- 1 TBS fresh marjoram (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup of sour cream (optional)
- to serve: hard-boiled eggs and/or Polish kielbasa
1. If not going for a vegetarian option, cut up the bacon into small pieces and fry it with diced onion. For a vegetarian option, use a bit of olive oil to saute the onion.
2. In a pot, bring 3 quarts of water, smashed garlic, bay leaves, allspice berries, 1 TBS of salt, a sprinkling of pepper, and half of the marjoram to boil. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes. If you want to eat it with the sausage, place the sausage into the pot as well so that it can release its flavor into the stock.
3. Meanwhile boil the eggs and let them cool.
4. After 10 minutes, remove the bay leaves and allspice berries from the stock. If using sausage, remove it as well.
5. Pour the sour rye starter into the soup. Start with one cup and taste the flavor. If you want a mild soup, 1 cup might be enough. For a more sour, umami-packed zurek, keep adding the starter until the desired sourness is achieved.
6. Add the rest of the dried marjoram. Bring to a boil and let simmer for a few minutes until the soup thickens.
6. Meanwhile, slice up the sausage (if using) and peel and halve the eggs.
7. Pour the cream into the soup (do not boil as sour cream might turn into farmer’s cheese when boiled)
8. Add sausage slices if using.
9. Correct seasoning with additional salt and pepper if needed.
10. Sprinkle with fresh marjoram before serving.
Another option for the Zurek, is to boil diced potatoes with the herbs, prior to adding the sour rye starter.
How to serve?
Pour the soup into bowls. Add two egg halves per person.
Serve with sourdough bread or mashed potatoes on the side.
Sauerkraut Soup with (or without) Hamhocks (Kapusniak)
Here is something very Eastern-European for you. Again, loaded with probiotic-rich sauerkraut which is so good for gut health.
The traditional recipe calls for making the stock for the soup with meat, but I think the ham hocks could easily be omitted and replaced with another umami flavor, for example, soy sauce. For true vegans and vegetarians, there is always a way, right?
While kapusniak can be served any time of the year, I like it best when it gets chilly outside. It is sour and hot, and it will run down your chin so watch out for these burns when eating it.
Kapusniak is a traditional poor-man soup since it really is made out few ingredients that every home could have and the part of the pig that normally would be discarded: the ham hocks.
To make the soup, you either have to buy traditional sauerkraut or make it yourself. If buying, make sure there is no vinegar added. Traditional sauerkraut should have only two ingredients – cabbage and salt – maybe with exception of some spices like bay leaves or allspice, and sometimes a few shredded carrots.
RELATED POST: How to Make Sauerkraut
- 2 cups of sauerkraut (keep the sour water from the jar in case you nee dto add some for taste)
- 2 hamhocks (I find that using smoked hamhocks is best, but you can also use fresh meat)
- 1 onion
- 2 carrots
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 4-5 allspice berries
- 3 quarts of water or vegetable stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large pot, combine everything but the sauerkraut, bring to boil and simmer until the meat on the hamhocks is tender and falls off the bone (about 1- 2 hours)
- Remove the spices and the hamhocks. Let the hamhocks coll on the cutting board
- Add sauerkraut to the stock, tasting for the sourness. If you want it more sour, add more kraut and/or the sour liquid from the jar.
- Let the soup simmer for 30-45 minutes until the sauerkraut is soft.
- Meanwhile, remove the fatty parts of the hamhocks and find whatever lean meat you can find. Cut it up into chuck size and add back to the soup when ready to serve.
How to serve?
This soup tastes great with a side of mashed potatoes topped with a bit of bacon fat.
Or, you can serve it with sourdough bread or any other bread of your choice.
So, these are my three favorite traditional Polish soups. I learned how to make them from my mom, she learned it from her mom, and so on. I am hoping to impart these traditions to my kids once they are ready to learn. For now, I am happy that they like the soups – the POlish mushroom soup being their favorite – so there is hope that they will want to make them one day and introduce their families to the Polish ancestral recipes.