Monday, January 20, 2014

52WoC Week 2: Polish - Zupa Ogorkowa (Pickle Soup)

When I first saw the week 2 theme, I instantly was brought back to my freshman year of college. Please take a journey with me back to a time when I was young, optimistic, and didn't own 100 pairs of sneakers. So there I was with my freshman hall, about 2 months into our first semester, eating dinner in Appel1. None of us had gone home and we were all talking about what we missed at home. Some people it was family, others it was pets but for me, I was pining for a nice juicy steak with caramelized onions. We all started talking about food and our favorite home recipes. What I will always remember is my good Polish friend telling me her most missed dish: pickle soup. Immediately I imaged a jar of pickles being heated up on the stove in its own juices. I genuinely thought it was hot pickles in hot pickle juice. My friend explained it was more of a traditional soup with pickles but that mental image has stuck around with me until now. So once I saw this theme, I knew I had to try this Polish delicacy. I reached out to my friend and got her mother's recipe and set about making my first pickle soup.

So let me run down what I learned making my first pickle soup. It's a fairly straight forward soup that doesn't take much longer than an hour to prepare. It's fairly hearty with its potatoes and pickles and makes a great main course. It does indeed use a fair amount of pickle juice. Your kitchen will smell like pickles. And the most important lesson from making pickle soup: it's surprisingly delicious. The pickle juice and pickles balance out nicely with the half and half and you're left with a good hearty soup that has a nice tartness. The tartness brings life to what otherwise would be a potato soup. I genuinely thought it would be like eating a baked potato while drinking picklebacks but it really hits well on a nice cold winter day2. I ended up having to slightly modify the family recipe I was given for various reasons and that is the one posted below.

Zupa Ogorkowa

Qty Ingredient Procedure
4 1/2 cups chicken stock
  1. Bring the bacon and stock to a boil.
2 strips bacon
4 medium potatoes
  1. Dice potatoes and grate carrots. Simmer until tender.
2 carrots
5 dill pickles
  1. Grate the pickles. Add the pickles and pickle juice and simmer for 30 minutes.
1 cup pickle juice
3/4 cup half and half
  1. Combine half and half and flour. Temper the mixture with some of the hot soup. Add it back to the soup and wait until it comes back to a simmer and is desired thickness. Season to taste.
1 tbsp flour

I highly recommend starting all soups with homemade stock. It adds a nice richness you just don't get from the store bought stuff. Not to mention it gives you way more sodium control. Store bought broth is the Keystone Light of stocks while homemade is literally any other beer - Keystone Light is that bad3. Bring the bacon and the stock to a boil. While it is heating up, dice your potatoes to about 1/2 inch cubes and grate your carrots. Once the stock is up to a boil, add the potatoes and carrots and lower the temperature to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender, approximately 20 minutes.

Once your potatoes are tender, you are ready to add the soup's namesake. I found grating pickles to be a painful experience. They are firm yet squishy to make grating difficult - be prepared to take some time grating these. Add the grated pickles and pickle juice and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. At this point, your kitchen will start to smell of pure pickle brine which may not be the fragrance you're going for. It will subside after about 10 minutes of simmering.

Combine the half and half and the flour. You want to temper this so it doesn't get shocked in the hot soup. Once tempered, add it to the soup and cook until it comes back to a simmer. At this point the flour will have cooked out causing your soup to thicken nicely. Season to taste, I found it didn't need much salt because of the pickle juice but benefited nicely from some fresh black pepper.

  1. I miss Appel dining hall and its Sundays with dim sum and occasional wing nights but I'm sure if I went back I would be disgusted.  
  2. I live in Houston. When I made the soup Thursday it was 60°F outside. 
  3. Keystone Light was what I drank in college and it will forever have a soft spot in my heart but it truly is one of the foulest tasting beverages. 


  1. What the hell is a pickleback?

    1. It's a shot of cheap whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice in an attempt to nullify the flavor of the whiskey. It's almost as gross as it sounds.