As I’ve been preparing to graduate college and move out of Columbia, I’ve been going through the standard move-out checklist: return library books, pack up clothes, so on and so forth. When I got to the point of cleaning out my fridge, however, I realized that I could put all my leftovers into one pot and cook it up in the name of Eurokulture.
So, what I’m attempting here is Solyanka, sort of the one-pot meal of the former East Germany, made with leftovers and whatever you happen to have on hand. Blogger Karo over at Persephone Magazine claims that Solyanka originally came out of Russia and Ukraine, but became extremely common and popular in East Germany because of the large amount of cultural imitation of the USSR. I guess the Soviet Union was sort of the cool older kid to East Germany, being the biggest, most successful socialist nation, and imitating Soviet foods and culture was sort of like the little brother getting the same haircut in an attempt to show that he’s also cool.
Here are your Vegetables/Fruits- I used three white onions, a large can of crushed tomatoes, a can of tomato paste, a whole sliced lemon, and eight small sweet gherkin pickles. Don’t use dill pickles, they’re too salty!
You’ll need meat, too. Or a meat substitute? All the recipes I found used several types of meat, and pretty much anything seems to be acceptable. I saw versions with beef, hotdogs, pork, smoked cutlets, bacon, and many other meats. I just used what I happened to have lying around: From left to right, a leftover pork chop, roast lamb, and some pork jowl, which is really just like bacon.
Lastly, you’ll need to gather all of your spices and garnishes. From left to right here, I’ve got red chili pepper, salt, thyme, allspice, black pepper, bay leaf, paprika, parsley and sour cream. The sour cream and parsley are mostly for garnishing to serve, but I added some parsley to my soup as it was cooking to add some freshness.
So, bringing it all together, your first move should be preheating the oven. I set mine to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re using a dutch oven, like I did, you’ll want to let that get nice and hot before adding any of your ingredients.
While your oven is preheating, you’ll need to make your broth. Add your onions, gherkins, lemon, tomatoes and tomato paste to as much water as you wish to use. You could use a broth, but with all the meat, broth could make for a really heavy soup, and Solyanka isn’t supposed to be too thick.
Also, add all your herbs and spices, including some of the parsley, but save more parsley for serving later.
You also need to cook all your meat now, because it’s a bad idea to have raw meat swimming around with your vegetables. Just brown it.
Next step is the last step, really. Put your browned meat in the pot with the broth, cover, and cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1.5 hours. If your kitchen is as small as mine, then it will be about at hot as your oven. Cooking is hard work, but we love it.
After you’ve let your Solyanka finish cooking, serve it up immediately and enjoy! I added some sour cream and parsley, but if you’re making a more Russian-leaning version, you might want to use dill, as you would on any other Russian dish. I also had a bowl of Solyanka for breakfast the next morning, and I’m here to tell you that it’s really good as leftovers. You should probably take out the lemon slices before putting the soup in the fridge, because my batch got pretty sour overnight.
Solyanka, then, is basically a sweet and sour soup with meat and vegetables. Those are the only constant factors. I found so many variations on this basic recipe as I was preparing this meal that my own recipe basically ended up being a combination of all of them.
This site claims to present an East German recipe for Solyanka, but it uses dill and capers, which seems to be a more Russian version.
This one is also East German, but is almost completely different from the other East German recipe. This is getting confusing.
The Near Distant Ago, an English-language Cold War nostalgia blog, presents yet another very different recipe. Great.
Eventually I realized that if there are this many variations on the recipe, then the particulars must not be too important. So, I picked and chose my ingredients from the various recipes, ending up with my own recipe, which seems to be not only acceptable, but also the ideal way to make Solyanka.