Frugal, filling, and deliciously hearty, this bílá fazolová polévka (white bean soup) is one of the culinary mainstays of the Czech Republic.
For the average Czech, soups are an everyday part of life, and usually form the first of three courses for the main meal of the day (which is generally around noon or early afternoon). Until relatively recently, meat was only really consumed once a week (usually on Sundays) and on high days and holidays, so it comes as no great surprise then, that vegetarian soups are common.
Having said that, bílá fazolová polévka can be made with chicken stock, and also have a little bacon and/or sausage added to it – often as flavorings, as opposed to foods in their own right.
Bílá fazolová polévka in other countries
Slavs are the largest ethno-linguistic group in Europe, and are to be found all over Central, Eastern, and South-Eastern Europe (and into Asia too), so it’s only natural that Slavic food travels too. Having lived in several Slavic countries, I have noticed that despite claims to the contrary from various locals, there are many dishes which are pretty similar to each other, if not exactly the same!
This similarity is even to be found in Romania and Hungary too – which are not Slavic lands – very often because all of these peoples share common culinary root sources… notably the Roman and Ottoman empires.
Another reason for similar culinary traditions is simply climate and geography. Historically, cuisines develop from whatever foodstuffs are available, and evolve from there via travel and creativity. Obviously, early Slavs would not have been putting potatoes into their soups but for the past few centuries, this cheap and nutritious vegetable has become ubiquitous in not only Slavic cuisine but across the world, so it makes sense that it’s now become as much a part of the food as anything else.
Variations of bílá fazolová polévka can be found across Europe, and some of them have already been featured on 196 flavors:
In Romania: ciorbă de fasole
In Bulgaria: bob chorba
In Serbia: pasulj
In Slovenia: jota
In Cyprus: fasoláda
In Slovakia: kyslá fazuľová polievka
In Croatia: grah i varivah
In Italy: minestra di fagioli
In Macedonia: tavche gravche
This is by no means an exhaustive list – wherever you go in Europe, you’ll find some kind of similar bean soup!
Bílá fazolová polévka in traditional Slavic cuisine
Because beans are abundant in the Czech Republic, and full of protein (great for re-fueling when working on the land!), soups are often thick and hearty, and sometimes fortified with cream – in this case, sour cream (zakysaná smetana). Naturally, this also means that nourishing and filling meals can be made very frugally from what’s to hand.
Like so much cucina povera, there are several variations of bílá fazolová polévka. Sometimes, it’s made with potatoes and carrots, sometimes just potatoes. Both potatoes and carrots may be cut into chunks or grated/shredded, and then sautéed in butter before adding the rest of the ingredients.
Some cooks add parsley, and some prefer milk over cream, and add a spoonful of vinegar to sour the soup. Others even add a little sugar to balance the flavors. Some use plain water instead of stock or broth, and some don’t add sour cream.
In a culture where culinary skills are mostly handed down from mother to daughter, it’s unsurprising that there’s no one definitive recipe for this bean soup, and non-Czechs using Google to find an authoritative recipe may find their quest to be something of a minefield of contradictions!
What is consistent though, is that the beans are soaked overnight, and partially cooked – usually in a pressure cooker – while the vegetables for the soup are being sautéed. Once the vegetables are softened, and have given off their flavor, a little flour is added to make a roux, and then hot liquid is added, followed by the beans, herbs, and seasoning. The soup is then cooked until the beans have become soft, and then if using, the sour cream is stirred through before serving.
Regardless of whether you have it as part of a larger meal or on its own, dished up with a chunk of fresh bread, bílá fazolová polévka is delicious and filling, and perfect for keeping you warm during colder weather.
This recipe is validated by our culinary expert in Czech cuisine, Kristyna Montano. You can find Kristyna on her food blog CzechCookbook.com.
- 16 oz. dry white beans
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 2 onions , diced
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 clove garlic , crushed
- 4 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock), hot
- ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- Salt , to taste
- Pepper , to taste
- ½ cup sour cream
- 3 sausages , sliced
- 4 slices of bacon , diced
Soak the white beans in a large bowl of cold water for 12 hours.
Drain the beans, and place into a pressure cooker with enough boiling water to cover. Attach the lid, and once the pressure is up, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the butter, and fry the onions over medium-low heat for 5 mins until they start to become translucent.
Sprinkle over the flour, and stir well. Add the garlic, and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly. (If you’re using sausages and bacon, add them now.)
Add the stock to the pan, and mix everything well, ensuring there are no lumps.
Add the boiled and drained beans, marjoram, and thyme. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 40 minutes, until the beans are soft.
Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the sour cream a little at a time, making sure it doesn’t curdle.
Decant the bílá fazolová polévka into bowls, and serve with bread.