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Eating Jewish: Krupnik (Polish Barley Soup)

If I had to choose one word to describe the last few weeks it would, without a doubt, be indulgence. Between my birthday celebrations and holiday celebrations, I’ve done quite a lot of feasting. Friends and family have fed me delicious meals and I’ve also had the opportunity to cook some fabulous food as well. Yet, as good as it all was, when thinking about what to make for dinner one night last week all I wanted was something healthy (some vegetables, please) but that was also hearty. This soup fit the bill on both accounts while being the perfect antidote to the cold winter days that had descended on this part of the world.

In the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Gil Marks explains that this soup originates from Poland and its name comes from the Slavic word for hulled grains, krupa. Both Jews and non-Jews, as explained in the 1903 edition of The Jewish Encyclopedia, commonly made it. However, in order to comply with the laws of kashrut, two versions of this soup were prepared by Jews, namely a pareve version and one that contained meat. When this soup is prepared without meat, it is often served with sour cream. This dish was a staple in households in Poland and the Baltic States and was eaten on a daily basis in some homes. Due to its almost daily presence on kitchen tables, it was seen as an unexceptional meal as reflected by the Yiddish expression “Beser bay zikh krupnik, eyder bay yenem gebrotns” meaning “Better barley soup at home than a roast at someone else’s home.”

It is easy to see why this soup used to be an essential part of the diet of many Ashkenazi Jews; it is substantial, filling and served along with some bread is a meal in itself. The soup is not difficult to make and once all the ingredients have been added to the pot, you just have to allow it to simmer and cook for forty-five minutes. You then get a thick, comforting soup in which the pearl barley imparts a wonderful nutty flavor that marries well with the earthiness of the mushrooms. This soup is also adaptable according to your own preferences and the vegetables you happen to have on hand. The original recipe called for parsnips or turnips and although I didn’t have any, I think they or any other root vegetable would be a nice addition.

Soup is one of my favorite things to make at this time of year and this is definitely one that I will be making over and over again throughout the winter months ahead.

Krupnik (Polish Barley Soup)
From Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food

3 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
2 medium yellow onions
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
8 cups chicken broth, beef broth or vegetable broth or water
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
1 to 2 pounds fresh mushrooms, sliced, or 1 ounce dried Polish or Italian mushrooms, soaked and sliced
3 medium carrots, sliced into 1 inch rounds
2 to 3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sweet paprika (optional)

In a large heavy pot heat the oil over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and sauté until softened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the parsley. Add the broth, barley, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, bay leaf, salt and pepper, and if using, paprika. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the barley is tender, about 45 minutes.

Krupnik (Polish Barley Soup)
Full image
Photo courtesy of Katherine Romanow.

How to cite this page

Romanow, Katherine. "Eating Jewish: Krupnik (Polish Barley Soup)." 3 January 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 31, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/eating-jewish-krupnik>.

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