What a delicious soup Czech zelňačka is! Made from sauerkraut, zelňačka is a soul-warming soup ideal for cold autumn and winter days.
What Is Czech Zelňačka?
Zelná polévka, or zelňačka is a type of traditional Czech soup made from fermented cabbage (sauerkraut, kysané zelí). The soup also includes klobása, a special Czech smoked sausage, onions and potatoes.
Back in the old days, the soup used to be cooked in winter, especially in poorer Czech regions.
Zelňačka is loaded with vitamins and other nutrients. They helped people to survive long and cold winters, which were commonplace in the Czech Republic in the past.
Sauerkraut in the Czech Republic
My family comes from the foothills of the Giant Mountains (Krkonoše), the highest mountain range in the Czech Republic. I now live about 100 km further west, in another mountainous area, the Jizera Mountains (Jizerské hory).
At the foot of the Czech mountains, the two most common crops that were planted there were cabbage and potatoes. There were ideal growing conditions for them.
In autumn, most of the cabbage yield was fermented and processed into sauerkraut. It lasted through the entirety of the winter, and sauerkraut was a good source of vitamins when the Czech people had no fresh fruit or vegetables.
Genuine sauerkraut contains a lot of vitamin C and other nutrients. Sauerkraut is mostly used as a side dish (do you know the typical Czech meal called knedlo, vepřo, zelo?) or it is used in sauerkraut soup called zelňačka.
Sidenote: The word Sauerkraut is German in origin – kraut is cabbage, sauer means sour. The word Sauerkraut spread to English-speaking countries due to the German soldiers marching through Europe in both World Wars.
What Ingredients Do We Need in Zelná Polévka
Zelňačka is a healthy soup, flavored with traditional Czech herbs and spices, which used to grow in our grandmas’ gardens. You’ll need:
- Fermented cabbage (sauerkraut)
- „klobása“, a Czech smoked sausage (or polish kielbasa)
- Crushed caraway seeds
- Bay leaves
- Sweet peepers
- Chicken broth
- All-purpose flour to thicken
A scoop of sour cream will help give zelná polévka a smoother taste.
Want More Typical Czech Soups?
Definitely try these ones:
How to Make Czech Sauerkraut Soup?
The recipe for zelňačka is easy, you just need to follow these steps:
- Warm up the lard in a pot, add the sliced onion and fry until it turns golden brown.
- Dust with the sweet paprika, add caraway seeds and flour, stir for 1 minute.
- Pour in the chicken broth, add sauerkraut, bay leaves. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Cook the diced potatoes separately.
- Fry the diced sausages in a pan.
- Add the boiled potatoes and fried sausages to the soup.
- Take out the bay leaves, add sugar, stir, flavor with salt.
You can add a scoop of sour cream when serving – just put it in the middle of the plate with zelňačka soup.
Why to Cook the Potatoes for Zelňačka Separately?
Potatoes cooked together with sauerkraut don’t soften at all. It’s more convenient to cook the potatoes for this soup in a separate pot.
Don’t cook the potatoes until completely soft. When you add them into the soup, they will continue cooking and will soften.
Use non-starchy potatoes. They should be firm after cooking, al dente.
Sauerkraut Soup at Our Neighbors
Sauerkraut is a common food in the Central and East Europe. Our neighboring countries also have „zelňačka“ soup on their menu.
These are the names of the cabbage soup used in other Central and Eastern European countries:
- Slovakia: kapustnica
- Germany: Kohlsuppe, Krautsuppe
- Ukraine: kapusňak
- Poland: kapuśniak, kwaśnica
Let´s go and have the fun with Zelňačka soup recipe!
Zelňačka – Czech Sauerkraut Soup
- 2 Tbsp lard +1 Tbsp more to fry klobása
- 4 onions
- crushed caraway seeds
- 1 Tbsp sweet pepper
- 6 Tbsp (50 g) all-purpose flour
- 5 cups (1.2 l) chicken broth or water
- 17 oz (500 g) sauerkraut rinsed
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 potatoes
- 7 oz (200 g) klobása Czech smoked sausage, or Polish kielbasa
- 4 Tbsp (50 g) granulated sugar
- Peel the onion and slice it up roughly.
- Cut the sauerkraut, so there are no large pieces.
- Take a large pot with a thick bottom. Put the lard in it, heat it up, add the onion and fry it until it turns golden brown.
- Dust with paprika, add the crushed caraway seeds and flour, fry it for a minute and stir it a lot. This way, you’ll prepare the roux, which thickens the soup.
- Add in a little broth and mix, so the roux dissolves. Stir and add in the broth gradually. Stir it with a spoon, so that no lumps form.
- Add the cut sauerkraut, bay leaves and boil at a low temperature for 15-20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, dice them and cook them in a separate pot in the salt water.
- Dice the sausages and fry them in the lard in a separate pan.
- Add the potatoes and sausages into the soup, take out the bay leaves and add sugar.
- Mix, flavor with salt and serve.