When you have pickles, beautiful pickles...make soup! pickle and pirogi soup!
I grew up eating pickles, loving pickles, feeling emotionally attached to pickles. A pickle is made to eat as is; oh, you can cut them up into tiny polite pieces, you can cut them into spears for a more elegant presentation, but truly: I ate them whole (and still do): first I pop as much as I can into my mouth and suck the juice from the outside. Then, when the possibility of dripping juice is no longer a threat, I take my first bite. I’d like to say that its the best bite, but the truth is that I love pickles so much, even the last bite is the best, even sucking the juice is the best.
Chopped and sliced, pickles are good in many things, its true: Salat Oliver, tartar sauce, burgers, thin sliced in a salami sandwich or garnishing chopped liver. But it wasn’t until I visited Poland—with Poland Culinary Vacations— that I discovered pickle soup. Why hadn’t any of the adults who fed me pickles made soup?
After my first trip to Poland, though, pickle soup became one of my quest foods: I ate it where and whenever I saw it on menus, and it was always a little bit different, depending on which region of Poland and what restaurant or pub I was eating at. It became a soup I would cook and cook and cook whenever I saw a pickle-lover who just might love it too.
My friend Malgorzata Rose of Poland Culinary Adventures (whose photo this belongs to) and I bonded over pickle soup the day we met in Wroclaw, Poland. Marlgorzata--Sarna for short-- gives regional food and wine tours of Poland. When she saw how attached I was to the whole pickle soup thing, she led me to as many as was possible.
The first pickle soup I learned to make was from a chef in a Wroclaw restaurant. I think he was amused by me: Funny American woman, she loves the pickles so much but she cannot even make the soup! How does she not know to make pickle soup?” But his soup was so good and I learned a lot.
The second lesson I had in pickle soup making was at The Culinary Academy in Gdansk (I was actually awarded an emmy-like or Oscar-like statuette for my accomplishment such as it was). Sarna’s culinary tours took me into the Polish housewives kitchens, throughout lower Silesia, and along the Baltic. Did they have pickle soup? Did they! Between these two pickle soup chef-lessons I ate every guise of pickle soup possible; if it was on a menu, I ordered it.
Perhaps I flatter myself, but I have begun to consider myself the queen of pickle soup. And while I’ll enjoy eating anyone else’s pickle soup to their own tastes and preferences, I now have my own, as if I have spent my life also eating pickle soup (instead of just…pickles!).
The first pickle soup I ate in Poland was in an elegant restaurant, served in a shallow bowl, super-creamy and blissfully rich. By the time I hit my stride, I was spooning up entirely different pickle soups: my favorite one without cream, jam-packed with garlicky umami, ordered in a trashy, tacky, sports bar that had a few dishes scrawled on an outside blackboard. It may have been my favorite pickle soup ever. Instead of creamy and opaque, it was translucent and brownish-pickle-green. It was terrific.
When I started making pickle soup at home, I began with the classic recipes I had learned from the chefs, then developed my own pickle soup palate. For instance, I like my pickle soup without the traditional tender chunks of meat; also I like quite a bit more pickle (a lotta lotta pickle to be honest, and lots of pickle brine (sometimes even two different types, one salt brined and the other vinegar based) added to my soup than most other Polish chefs. And, I prefer my pickle soup without a flour-thickened base or heavy cream stirred in, but with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche instead (stirred in or not, depending on my mood).
And then? The other day I had this brilliant idea. I was running low on potatoes and I like my pickle soup quite potato-y; before I hit the level of despair, I remembered my pierogi in the freezer. Could I add potato filled pierogi to the soup?
The answer is yes, yes yes. And really: its just WONDERFUL.
Marlena’s Pickle Soup with Pierogi
2 quarts broth, or water with 1 or two stock/bouillon cubes added
2-3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into uneven sized chunks and pieces
1 medium sized, or 2 small carrots, diced
1 stalk of celery, coarsely chopped, or a big chunk of celeriac, diced (I actually didn’t have celery at all recently and added a handful of leftover Brussels Sprouts, quartered, instead).
1 leek, thinly sliced, including the tender green part, or 1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 package (usually about16 ounces; enough for 3-4 pierogi per person) frozen pierogi or varyniki, either potato or potato and cheese filled
3 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
1-2 BIG dill pickles, or 3 small to medium, diced or shredded--i prefer the ogorky kishonie (from Polish delis) which are just like American/Russian/NYC kosher dill pickles, that is, salt-brined not vinegared. But i've made this with the vinegared ones too and it was delicious albeit in a different way.
1/2-1 cup pickle brine, or more to taste (note: even better than one type of pickle brine is two: one that is vinegar based with perhaps a hint of sweetness, and the other salt-brined, like a NYC kosher dill or the Polish/Ukrainian/Russian from which it evolved in the New World.
3 or so tablespoons chopped fresh dill, or to taste
Sour cream, as desired: a nice dollop in each bowlful.
Combine the broth with potatoes, carrots, celery and leeks, then bring to the boil, reduce heat, and cook until the are tender. Black pepper to taste (the pickle and brine you will add are salty, so you likely wont need to add salt).
Add the pierogi, and cook until they are just heated through, then add the garlic and chopped pickles to the soup, heat through, and ladle the soup plus vegetables and a few pierogi into each bowl.
Sprinkle generously with the dill, add a dollop of sour cream, and serve!
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A Ukrainian bakery-restaurant chain here in Toronto uses pickle juice in its beet borscht in place of lemon juice. And for years, every summer I make at least one batch of a Ukrainian cold soup of buttermilk, dill, pickled beets, cucumber and radish. I will certainly try this soup soon. Been meaning to let you know that I made a batch of your Instant Sephardi Mixed Vegetable Pickle for a lunch I prepared for a friend. I had a huge cauliflower on my hands and wondered what to do with it. It was absolutely delicious as well as easy to make, and I will certainly make it again.