Czech Sauerkraut Soup (Zelňačka)

Delicious with rye bread and beer on the side.

It’s mid-September, and the temperatures in Czech Republic have dropped, making it feel like autumn already. As it has rained a lot, a nice big pot of warming hearty soup was on my mind. So, I decided to make and share the recipe for a classic Czech sauerkraut soup called “Zelňačka”. As I mentioned in my posts for Szeged Style Sauerkraut Goulash and Hopl Popl, sauerkraut is a powerhouse of nutrition with lots of antioxidants. Delicious klobása (kielbasa), spices, and optional mushrooms also provide a big kick of autumn flavors. For a small meal, in itself, the recipe serves five or six people. As a first course, closer to eight.

Ingredients:

  • 500 g (1 lb) sauerkraut (use refrigerated bagged type in brine)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced small
  • 200 g (8 oz) kielbasa, cut length-wise and sliced (I use paprika klobása, but most work.)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • ½ to 1 tsp caraway seeds, as desired
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika, or even more, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
  • Optional: Small handful of dried wild mushrooms, first rehydrated w/soaking liquid
  • Chicken or vegetable broth (I add chicken bouillon to water)
  • Salt/pepper, to taste
  • Sour cream, to taste (or if preferred, some regular cream)
  • Chopped fresh parsley, if desired

Procedure:

Prepare the peeled and diced potatoes and chop the onions. If using the optional dried mushrooms, put them in a small bowl and cover with boiling water to rehydrate.

sauerkraut in brine2Simmer the sauerkraut (kysané zelí bílé): In a medium saucepan, empty the bag of sauerkraut and add the bay leaf and black peppercorns. Add some water (a cup or two) and simmer it for 30 minutes, covered. When done, remove the bay leaf and peppercorns. While this is simmering…

Boil the potatoes: In a small saucepan, boil the diced potatoes along with the caraway seeds until tender, about 15 minutes.

klobasa for ZelnackaTowards the end of the cooking steps above, put the 2 tablespoons of butter in a large soup pot and melt over medium heat. Once melted, add the sliced kielbasa, such as the one pictured. Fry for a minute, then add the chopped onions and cook until the onions are tender. Add the paprika and the flour and cook for a few minutes more.

Once the sauerkraut and potatoes are cooked, add them (no need to drain) to the onion-kielbasa mixture in the large pot, and stir. If using rehydrated mushrooms, add them as well, along with their soaking liquid, which you should first strain. After this, add in enough water (or vegetable broth) so that it is a thick soup. When using water, I also add a tablespoon of chicken or vegetable bouillon, but this is optional. Stir mixture well, and bring back to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes more.

I prefer to serve the Zelňačka as above and allow people to add sour cream to their own bowls, according to taste. However, you can add it to the whole pot, but first let the soup cool a bit. The sour cream could be optional, but it softens the strong flavors of the sauerkraut and kielbasa.

Note: If freezing leftover Zelňačka, I suggest doing so before any additions of sour cream. You will also find that as the soup sits, it thickens a bit more. Simply add a bit more water/broth, as needed.

Zelnacka on stove

Pictured above is the completed Zelňačka without any dairy product added.

For more soup recipes, Czech and otherwise, search “soups” on this site.

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