Zelnečka: Czech Cabbage Soup

I’ve been wanting to share this recipe with the world for a long time… mainly I just want every single one of my loved ones to know how to make this simple, yet delicious meal. It was passed down through several generations and now across countries!

When I was 16 years old I was given that rare opportunity to foreign exchange through Rotary International. I look back on that age and I literally cannot believe I lived a full year in another country by myself. I must have been really brave because I couldn’t imagine doing that now without at least someone I love. I think that’s what I learned most from that time abroad besides cultivating friendships, learning to speak and write in Czech, and my family history- it was that life is more precious when you can share it with the ones you love.

My host mother, Milena, is an amazing cook and pastry chef. Her and the rest of the family was actually my third host family. She would make these ornate and fabulous looking Christmas cookies I am still to this very day dreaming about. There was also a very strange tradition of cooking and eating carp soup on Christmas. It’s typical to place the fish in the bath tub until they are ready to eat. It has been a while since I’ve last really told my story or shared any experiences or memories about my life abroad at such a young of an age. It shaped who I am today and will continue to do so in so many positive ways. I am unbelievably so grateful from the support of my family and loved ones.

I must admit that I didn’t like this soup at first… and I know it was due to a church event when I was younger. My brother and I were stuck in a tent for several hours and intoxicated with the smell of crock-pot sourkraut steaming and filling our nostrils. We got so sick from the smell that we both had to excuse ourselves to breathe every 15 minutes. Since then, I have gotten over the smell and really enjoy the fermented taste… but the smell still gets to me. I’ve edited this recipe a bit due to that and I think you will be pleasantly surprised for those who don’t particularly like sourkraut either. Please enjoy this very traditional and old recipe from the Czech Republic and my host mother.

The Ingredients

  • 1 Medium sized head of farm-fresh cabbage
  • 1/4 small sized head of farm-fresh purple cabbage
  • 5 mixed potatoes of red and yukon gold
  • 1 onion
  • 1 small head of garlic
  • 2 TB grapeseed oil
  • 8 whole peppercorns
  • 2 TB paprika
  • 3 small bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar (or more to taste)
  • 1 mug of sour cream
  • 2 TB flour
  • 1 kielbasa

Some Tips & What-Not

A great way to spice-up your life would be to purchase a mortar and pestle… and yes, I might be referring to the tools you might have used in high school science class. This nifty item can grind up whole spices into fresh, ground, and tasty spices. It’s yet another way to really ensure you are using quality spices.

Another tip I might want to tickle-your-fancy on is creating a thickener for soups. This is my go-to way to thicken soup. You can use water, broth, milk, heavy cream, or even sour cream (for instance in this recipe). You add a bit of flour, corn starch, or arrow root powder and BAM!!! You can thicken your soup for the rest of your life by knowing this tip.


 The Instructions

Heat up grapeseed oil in a large pot (preferably a large dutch oven cast iron) and add the ground whole peppercorns, paprika, bay leaves, and a little bit of salt. Let it fry for a few minutes to release the spice of life aromas. Remove only the three bay leaves.


Meanwhile, dice up and cut potatoes into bite size pieces. In a smaller and separate pot add the potatoes and fill it with salty water just above the potatoes. Boil the potatoes until tender, but still slightly hard.


Chop and slice the cabbages, kielbasa, onion and add them to the pot of spices and oil. Add the vinegar and saute until the cabbage pieces start to wilt.

When the potatoes are done add the whole pot, including the water, to the cabbage and onion. Let the mixture come to a boil and turn it off when the cabbage is tender to bite. Mix in 2 TB of flour into the mug of sour cream. Slowly dump this into the pot and stir until slightly thickened.


Before devouring yourself into this soup it is custom in Czech to say, Dobrou Chut’ (good eating).


Live long, cook well, and be happy!


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