Solyanka (pronounced “so-lyan-ka”), a Russian word which can be translated as “grab-bag” or “hodgepodge” is the name of the dish symbolic in Russian cuisine known far beyond Russia. As a matter of fact, knowing the name of this dish is enough never to go hungry if you are a foreigner visiting Russia. For the first time “solyanka” is mentioned in the Russian literature of the 15th century and by the 18th century it is widespread and referred by two names – “solyanka” and “pohmelka” (“pokh-mel-ka”), which meant a greasy and very hearty soup served as snack with vodka or served as an entrée. Nobility, however, did not accept this dish at all, considering it a sign of bad taste and only commoners and poor people loved it, since it was very filling and warming while being a good source to replenish energy after a whole day of hard labor. Solyanka also helped common people to drink without actually getting drunk.
Solyanka can be thick or liquid. It is based on strong broths such as meat, fish or mushroom ones. Often it may contain smoked meats, franks, sausages or other sausage products. There are a lot of solyanka recipes but their ingredients are always partly sour, salty and spicy foods such as marinated or pickled mushrooms, sauerkraut, pickles, lemons or lemon juice, capers, olives and even brew which can be added to the soup all together or in any combinations and variations. The salty-spicy-sour taste of solyanka is major part of its charm. Try this unique taste once and you are going to remember it forever!
Since mid-19th century tomatoes or tomato paste become new common ingredient greatly enriching taste of the soup which starts being served with sour cream. And, of course, the most hearty and delicious solyanka is not possible without spices – fennel, parsley, garlic and onions, spicy and sweet peppers. Possibly the large number of ingredients and their unique mix attributed to the start of use of word “solyanka” in Russian language not only as name of a dish, but in general term referring to a “colorful mix” of something.
Note: I cook my stock the day before cooking the soup. If it’s to much for you use beef stock from the store. You will need about 6 cups of stock.
For the beef broth:
- 1 lb. boneless beef shin or stewing steak, cut into large cubes
- 1 lb. beef bones
- 2 onions, peeled and quartered
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 1 large leek, sliced
- 1 stalk celery, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1 bay leaf
- 4-5 strings fresh thyme, or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
For the solyanka soup:
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced
- 3 salted cucumbers or pickeles, halved lengthwise and sliced
- 3 Tsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp paprika (smoked paprika is even better!)
- 2 large potato, peeled and cubed into large chunks
- 1/2 cup green olives, sliced
- 1/2 cup black olives, sliced
- 2 tsp capers (optional)
- about 1 lb. of cooked lean meat products (choose a mixture of Frankfurters, Polish or Krakow sausages, sliced cooked beef, mild chorizo sausages etc – 2-3 different types)
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/2 of large lemon, sliced to serve
- sour cream and parsley to serve
- rye bread, toasted
To make the stock: trim as much fat as possible from the beef and put in large roasting pan with the bones and onions. Roast in preheated oven at 375°F for 30-40 minutes until browned, turning once or twice. Transfer the ingredients to a large soup pot and discard the fat.
Add the water (it should cover by at least 2 inches) and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam. Reduce the heat and add the sliced garlic, carrots, leek, celery, bay leaf, thyme and pinch of salt. Simmer very gently for 2- 2 1/2 hours. Skim occasionally. Do not stir. If the ingredients emerge from the liquid, top up with water.
Gently ladle the stock through a muslin-lined sieve into a large container and remove as much fat as possible. Save the meat, but discard the bones and vegetables. (There should be about 8 cups of stock, you need 6 cups for soup, save the rest for another purpose.)
To make a soup: heat the olive oil is a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Add onions and cook until lightly browned. Add pickles, 1/2 cup pickles juice or broth, tomato paste and paprika. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In a deep pot put the beef stock to warm it up. When the stock starts to boil add the potato, let boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Add the onion mixture and smoked/un-smoked meats. Let the solyanka soup cook slowly for 5-10 minutes, add salt and pepper. Stir in olives and capers and let it cook for another 2-3 minutes.
Ladle this delicious soup into warm bowls, garnish with slice of lemon and parsley. Serve with sour cream and toasted rye bread.