Tonight something quick and easy - dill pickle (gherkins) hearty soup. You can buy abroad sour cucumbers (gherkins) in food stores carrying Polish, Russian or Eastern European Jewish food. More information on how to make sour cucumbers at home will come in the season, meaning in the summer time, which hopefully will come here only in 6 months. Except for the sour cabbage (sauerkraut), Polish dill pickles (gherkins / sour cucumbers) are the most common vegetables – pickled, or rather fermented in brine (water plus salt). Polish dill pickles (gherkins) are a component of Polish cooking traditions as the cornichon is part of the French ones, although the comparison of gherkins to cornichons is not appropriate as those last ones are just pickled in vinegar and have a different taste.
This sort of pickles developed not only in Poland but in northern Europe in general. Our Polish dill pickles, which I love to eat, are pickled using the process of natural fermentation in brine which makes them sour. It depends on the natural Lactobacillus bacteria that cover the skin of growing cucumbers. There is no vinegar used for this type of pickling. Moreover, only a special type of pickling cucumbers, which you can get easily in Poland, although only during summertime, as they are seasonal, and with difficulties in France, may be used for the pickling. As opposed to long and waxed eating cucumbers, pickling cucumbers are shorter and thicker. Their shape is not as regular and they have a bumpy skin with tiny white- or black-dotted spines.
In winter time one can buy dill pickles (gherkins) either in food stores or on food markets. Here in Kraków I buy them on food markets only, from sellers I usually trust so I can be quite sure that there is no vinegar in them and that the acid taste comes exclusively from natural pickling. When I lived in Paris I used to buy dill pickles either in stores carrying Polish food (those gherkins were quite tasty) or in the one of the most expensive food stores in Paris – La Grande Epicerie de Paris – they used to sell them there in jars and they simply were - as French people say – dégueulasses, of a very poor quality. A good dill pickle should be firm and crunchy. The taste may be more or less of garlic.
These cucumbers are still one of the most popular accompaniments in the Polish cooking. They are used for sandwiches, salads, as an accompaniment to dumplings and meat dishes, as well as in soups. Polish people use gherkins for salads (for example: potato salad, vegetable salad, accompaniment to meat and pierogi dishes, pâtés, or in soups).
Dill pickle (gherkin) soup is one of the most popular daily homemade soups. I suppose there exists as many recipes as the number of households. Some will use beef stock, others chickens stock or chicken hearts and stomach stock, some will serve the cucumber soup with rice (which I do not like), some with carrots, dill, chives etc. When I cook the soup at home, usually I add potatoes and a lot of dill. Sometimes, I add a bit of carrots and chives, like today. You can omit bacon and meat stock and cook a vegetarian version of course.
Polish Sour Cucumber Soup
1 liter vegetable / chicken stock
1 small carrot, peeled and washed, shredded
600 g firm dill pickles (gherkins), peeled and cut into small dice
50 g bacon cut into small dice
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium potatoes, peeled, washed and cut into 1 cm dice
A few tablespoons good heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Salt and pepper
In a saucepan, melt butter, add cucumbers and fry for about 5 minutes. In the meantime grill the bacon in a non stick frying pan until crispy. Keep aside.
In a large sauce pan, boil the stock and add potatoes. After 5 minutes add shredded carrot and cook everything under the cover for 10 minutes. Add cucumbers and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until potatoes are really soft. Taste the soup and add salt (if necessary – cucumbers are salty) and pepper. The soup should be sour – if it is not, you can add some lemon juice. In a separate container, use a bit of the soup to mix with the cream then pour the mixture into the soup. Serve on plates and decorate with bacon and chives.