What a delicious soup Czech zelňačka is! Made from sauerkraut, zelňačka (or zelná polévka z kysaného zelí) is a soul-warming soup ideal for cold autumn and winter days.
If you’re thinking of giving it a try, I want to assure you that Czech zelňačka definitely stands out with other sauerkraut soups!
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 survive long and cold winters, which were commonplace in the Czech Republic's mountainous areas in the past.
I recorded a short audio clip on pronouncing the Czech word zelňačka. The first word in the audio is "zelňačka" – the name of the food, the last is "zelná polévka", which means sauerkraut soup.
TIP: Try out česnečka, Czech garlic soup, often used as a healing soup while being sick or as a hangover cure!
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.
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.
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, the hero ingredient here, aka sauerkraut
- Onions, peeled and finely chopped
- Klobása, a Czech smoked sausage (or polish kielbasa)
- Brown potatoes, peeled and diced, cooked separately
- Lard, or vegetable oil
- Caraway seeds, crushed for even better taste
- Bay leaves
- Black pepper, freshly ground
- Sweet paprika, ground, ideally Hungarian-style
- Sugar, to make the sauerkraut soup taste better
- Chicken broth, in case you don’t have broth, use water
- All-purpose flour, to thicken the zelňačka soup, we’ll use flour for a roux
A scoop of sour cream added while serving will help give zelná polévka a smoother taste.
🥣 More Czech delicious soups:
- Gulášová polévka – goulash soup
- Bramboračka – chunky potato soup with wild mushrooms
- Frankfurtská polévka – Frankfurter Soup with fried sausages
The recipe for zelňačka is easy, you just need to follow these steps:
- Place a soup pot over medium-high heat, put the lard in a pot, add the sliced onion and fry until lightly golden.
- Dust with the sweet paprika, add caraway seeds and flour, stir for 1 minute. This way you’ll create the base for rich taste and intense flavor of sauerkraut soup. (Picture 1+2)
- Pour in the chicken broth while whisking.
- Add sauerkraut, bay leaves. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Meantime, 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 and pepper.
You can add a scoop of sour cream when serving - just put it in the middle of the plate with zelňačka soup.
TIP: Before adding klobása into the zelňačka soup, dice it and fry in a pan.
You should cook potatoes and sauerkraut 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.
🔎 Want you more delicious soups? Browse the category with all Czech soup recipes!
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, Sauerkrautsuppe
- Ukraine: kapusňak
- Poland: kapuśniak, kwaśnica
Zelňačka – Czech Sauerkraut Soup
- 16 oz (450 g) sauerkraut (rinsed)
- 3 brown potatoes (medium)
- 7 oz (200 g) klobása (Czech smoked sausage, or Polish kielbasa)
- ⅓ cup (45 g) all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar
- 5 cups (1.2 l) chicken broth (or water)
- 3 onions
- 2 Tbsp lard (+1 Tbsp more to fry klobása)
- ½ tsp crushed caraway seeds
- 1 Tbsp sweet paprika (ground)
- 2 bay leaves
- pepper (ground)
- Peel onions and chop them 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, add the onion and fry it until lightly golden.
- Dust with sweet paprika, add the crushed caraway seeds and flour, fry for a minute while stirring 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 or whisk it so that no lumps form.
- Add the cut sauerkraut, bay leaves and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel potatoes, dice them and cook in a separate pot in the saltwater.
- 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 pepper to your liking, serve.
DISCLAIMER: Because I come from Central Europe, my recipes are based on metric units such as grams or milliliters. Check out how I convert metric units to the U.S. system:Conversion chart