Zelnečka: Czech Cabbage Soup (with Vegan option)

by Spicie Foodie on January 8, 2014

Zelnečka: Czech Cabbage Soup by @SpicieFoodie | #zelnecka #cabbage #soup #Czech #kielbasa

Seriously, what is going on with the weather all over the world? If it isn’t habitable land turning into arctic tundra, it’s sweltering heat, or colossal waves and record setting rainfall causing “state of emergency” flooding. I know, as someone who lives in the Tropics I shouldn’t be complaining about the weather. Though we’ve had too much rain, cloudy and cooler days, it’s nothing at all like so many of you in North and South America, Australia and England have been experiencing. So I won’t complain and instead I’ll share a recipe to keep, those of you currently experiencing the arctic tundra, warm. If you are melting in the summer heat make sure to check out my archives for cooling recipes.

Zelnečka is a his hearty cabbage soup that comes from Czech Republic. This is my husband’s favourite Czech soup and my second favourite, after bramboračka. Don’t think because it is made out of cabbage that it isn’t a tasty soup, it’s delicious! The cabbage that is used is actually fermented cabbage or sauerkraut, this gives the soup it’s slight tangy taste that is quite unique. The red colour comes from the klobasa, or sausage, as well as the paprika that is used to spice the soup. To make the soup even heartier, potatoes are also added. The result is a soup made with humble ingredient that tastes a tad tangy, smokey, paprika-ey, and right down scrumptious; It will surely keep you warm this winter.

My recipe is a general recipe that many people follow. I, of course, added a tad of spiciness that you can completely omit if you want to make a very authentic Czech soup recipe. If Czech klobasa is not available where you live try to find a paprika spiced pork sausage. If you still cannot find the paprika spiced sausage then use regular kielbasa and add extra, about another tablespoon, of paprika.

Zelnečka: Czech Cabbage Soup by @SpicieFoodie | #zelnecka #cabbage #soup #Czech #kielbasa

Though a meaty soup zelnečka can also be made vegan, please check the “Notes” section in the recipe below. Okay, let’s get the soup pot going.

5.0 from 4 reviews
Zelnečka: Czech Cabbage Soup (with Vegan option)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This hearty Czech soup will keep you warm all winter long. It tastes smokey, paprika, tangy and just plain scrumptious! For a vegan version check the "Notes" section.
Recipe type: soup, stew,
Cuisine: Czech, European
Serves: 4-6
  • One 500 g or 1 lb. package of sauerkraut (jarred may also be used)
  • 2 klobasa sausages, cut into bite-size slices or pieces*
  • 1 extra large potato, peeled and cubed or cut into even-sized pieces
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 large dried bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp whole caraway seed
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • large pinch of ground cayenne pepper, optional
  • 1 liter or 4 cups of water**
  • smetana or sour cream to top soup
  1. Drain the sauerkraut, then place in a large bowl and cover with water, set aside. In a large pot heat the oil, add the onion and potatoes and saute until the potatoes are soft and onion translucent. Next add the sausage and garlic, cook for another 3 minutes. If the sausage releases a lot of oil drain most of it out. Add the bay leaf and caraway seed to the pot, cook for 2 minutes. Next add the smoked paprika, cayenne, black pepper and water, give the ingredients a stir.
  2. Drain the sauerkraut and add to the pot -- gently to prevent splashing. Cover and simmer the soup for 45 minutes or as long as desired. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.
*If Czech klobasa is not available, then substitute with other paprika spiced sausage or Polish kielbasa. If a paprika based sausage is not available, please add one more tablespoon of paprika to the pot.

**Instead of water you may use either vegetable or chicken broth for more flavour.

!Make it vegan:
To make this soup vegan/vegetarian replace the klobasa with a vegetarian sausage. You will also need to add the extra tablespoon of paprika, in total using three tablespoons. Instead of sour cream you can use a vegetarian cream or yogurt.


Zelnečka: Czech Cabbage Soup by @SpicieFoodie | #zelnecka #cabbage #soup #Czech #kielbasa

The soup may be served as a starter or as a main. This time I served it as a main meal, and to make it a more authentic Czech experience I served it alongside potato pancakes and Becherovka, which is a special liqueur that tastes like cloves and some other magical ingredients. Before you ask, I’m still working on perfecting the potato pancake recipe and will share it as soon as I’m satisfied. In the meantime I hope you make yourself a big pot of zelnečka to keep you warm.

As they say in the Czechlands, “Dobrou chut’! or bon appetit or enjoy your meal!


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in European,Soups/Stews

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eha January 8, 2014 at 9:08 PM

A very familar soup indeed and a great favourite with many born in the Baltics!! I have not added cayenne and besides the kielbasa there are quite a number of other tasty sausages which make this taste great. This is indeed a winter soup and will be filed for ours . . . methinks with yogurt rather than sour cream these days!!


2 Spicie Foodie January 8, 2014 at 9:57 PM

Really, I had no idea you ate it in the Baltics too — I always learn from you Eha.:) Yogurt sounds great too.


3 Eha January 8, 2014 at 11:50 PM

Add Poland, Byelorus, a very similar one in Russia ~ I won’t go get my Finnish cookbooks, but am pretty certain since sauerkraut is so much used there, they would have a similar. Oh, Ukraine and I think Romania also . . . food has no borders has it :) ?


4 Spicie Foodie January 9, 2014 at 8:53 AM

So true, Eha. That’s why food is so exciting:)


5 Joanne T Ferguson January 8, 2014 at 10:37 PM

G’day! So warm and welcoming Nancy, true!
Your photos are stunning as always and inspire me too!
Cheers! Joanne


6 Spicie Foodie January 9, 2014 at 8:52 AM

Thank you Joanne! I hope you’re having a great week!


7 Marta @ What should I eat for breakfast today January 9, 2014 at 4:48 AM

Yey! So close to a polish one. Yummy!


8 Spicie Foodie January 9, 2014 at 8:54 AM

I see, Eha also mentioned it. It funny that I never go to try the Polish one — we’ll, haven’t yet. Thank you Marta!:)


9 Faith (An Edible Mosaic) January 9, 2014 at 10:47 AM

This healthy soup is absolutely stunning, Nancy. Cabbage is one of my absolute favorite ingredient for comfort foods like this; there is just something so cozy about it, and something so perfect in its simplicity. I also want to wish you a very Happy New Year! I’m wishing you every happiness in the New Year, my friend.


10 Spicie Foodie January 9, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Hi Faith! Glad to hear you also love cabbage, I know many people don’t which is a shame. Thanks so much! Happy New Year to you and all my very best wishes for a fantastic 2014!


11 Ash-foodfashionparty January 9, 2014 at 11:58 AM

What a lovely warm soup and the pictures are gorgeous.
I hear ya, weather is so funny everywhere, we are in sunny California and no rain at all. Hope we get some rain soon.


12 Spicie Foodie January 9, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Hi Ash! I’ll gladly send you (lots) of the rain we’ve been having here. Enjoy your sunshine:)


13 Evelyne@cheapethniceatz January 9, 2014 at 1:48 PM

That is about as hardy as a soup can get, and delicious. Quite cold here but as long as you dress well its OK. I would not mind a shot of Becherovka though ;-)


14 Spicie Foodie January 9, 2014 at 7:41 PM

Hi Evelyne! I’d love to share a bowl of zelnecka and a shot, or two, of Bechevroka with you.


15 Jeanette | Jeanette's Healthy Living January 9, 2014 at 3:08 PM

Love how comforting and hearty this soup sounds – perfect for this wintry weather.


16 Spicie Foodie January 9, 2014 at 7:41 PM

Thank you Jeanette!


17 Nami | Just One Cookbook January 10, 2014 at 1:57 AM

I know the weather has been so crazy and so many people are affected. California, especially around SF area hasn’t had rain for a long time… very strange this year. Some people don’t like cabbage in the soup? Really?!?!? I LOVE it. The texture, flavor, everything! This soup looks so good, Nancy!


18 Spicie Foodie January 10, 2014 at 9:22 AM

Wow, and the locals keep telling us that this year they’ve had way more rain that is normal. Yep cabbage is one of those under-appreciated vegetables. It’s actually loaded with great benefits and so is the fermented cabbage. Thanks so much Nami!:)


19 Rika January 10, 2014 at 2:36 AM

Soups are hearty, comforting and filling to have around during these cold days, especially the new year 2014, they fill you up without feeling guilty!! Cabbages are really delicious to use and cook with, love them fried, braised, stewed, and all sorts of ways. A tad of spiciness sounds lovely, especially the sauerkraut! Miam, I would love to try a vegan version of this!


20 Spicie Foodie January 10, 2014 at 9:25 AM

Happy New Year Rika! Exactly as I feel. Enjoy the vegan version and let me if you made other changes to veganize it.


21 jc January 10, 2014 at 7:47 AM

Delicious vegan food is one reason why the number of vegans has doubled in less than 3 years. Here’s a video to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE

Join the revolution! 21-Day Vegan Kickstart http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/kickstart/kickstart-programs


22 Spicie Foodie January 10, 2014 at 9:35 AM

Hi JC! That’s great that so many are making the change. I’m not Vegan but I do care about animals and try to have at least several vegan/vegetarian meals a week.

Thanks for sharing the links with my readers.


23 John@Kitchen Riffs January 12, 2014 at 11:33 AM

Great recipe! I’ve had this dish a couple of times in restaurants, but never made it before. It’s great! Terrific job with this – thanks.


24 Spicie Foodie January 14, 2014 at 7:23 PM

Thank you John!


25 Terra January 12, 2014 at 11:37 AM

The weather is really crazy all over the world this year. We had 6 degrees F one day last week, and now 60 degrees F today in North Carolina U.S. So bizarre!!! The soup looks like a perfect comfort food on a cold or warm day! I love all the flavors combined! Beautiful, Hugs, Terra


26 Spicie Foodie January 14, 2014 at 7:23 PM

Wow, that’s crazy! Thank you Terra, I hope you’ve been having better weather.


27 Amrita January 22, 2014 at 6:11 PM

Excellent recipe! I only had to run out and buy the sour cream, everything else I had on hand :) I swapped out the water and used homemade chicken broth – yummy. As always your recipes are accessible, easy to make and a tasty treat. Love how versatile the ingredients are too.


28 Spicie Foodie January 22, 2014 at 6:38 PM

Hi Amrita! That’s great that you only needed to purchase one ingredient. Chicken broth for water is a great swap. Thank you, I’m glad to hear that you enjoy my recipes. All my best & happy cooking:)


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