Saturday, April 7, 2012


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"Hnguh" was the first word Valeriya managed to press through her dry, crackly lips. If you can call that a word but at least it was something. Well done, she thought to herself sarcastically. The last time she has had a night like this she could not talk for a whole three days from singing, shouting and fighting. Not that it really mattered - nobody was actually talking to her in that dead-end job she was clinging to, anyway. The big city is full of opportunities. That was what people were saying in that forlorn village in the middle of nowhere up there in Lyubye.


Except her mother. As she was trying to move her sore body up from the bed, one tired leg after another, she recalled that conversation she had with her when she announced her decision to move. Don't go, child. St. Petersburg is full of sin and sorrow.
Valeriya's sight was still blurry when she looked down at her pillow where her own smeared face was starring back at her. At least what she put on it the night before: Red lipstick and dark mascara. Even her fake mole she always draws right beneath her left eye has left its mark. Sin and sorrow, she repeated in her mind; her mother was right about that. 
At least this time she was the only person she had to make coffee for.

"Hnguh!" again. This time louder and more vigorous. The head-ache kicked in. She stood up, pulled down that dress she was still wearing, reeking of cold smoke and spilled vodka. "Nastrovye." she pronounced. Yes, Valeriya was bitter that morning. As she made her way to the kitchen right next door, she managed to step on those red pumps carelessly left on the floor. The dull pain distracted her for a second from that stinging, pulsating misery she called her head. 

While the coffee machine was doing its job, she sat down at the window. Morning has long been gone, so was most part of noon. While she watched people going their ways - people whose faces she will probably never see again -  her mind was still in her old village where the only thing that changed was the weather. She could have taken the easy path. She could have married one of the local boys, get pregnant not too much later and become the caring mother she has herself. That was it. Her life in a nutshell. Her mother's and grandmother's life in a nutshell. That's not what she wanted. Not all she wanted. So she chose Petersburg. Was she happy? No. But she was certain there was enough life in front of her to become exactly that. While she was still waiting for the coffee to be ready, Valeriya turned on the hob to heat up the Solyanka she prepared the night before. That is what she always does before going out: A hearty Solyanka for the hangover she is always certain she will suffer from. She was not wrong.
The crackling sound of the coffee machine gave her the signal for getting herself a mug, but also caused a rustling between the sheets. Movement. Groaning.

"Dobre. You want some coffee, maybe?"


Have you ever had a hearty Solyanka? Solyanka derived from Russia but can now be found in all Eastern Europe. It was hugely popular in the former German Democratic Republic, yet had never really gained equal popularity in the western parts. Preparing it was a rather spontaneous decision, after I have had it for the very first time last week when a colleague of mine brought a huge portion from his country pub where they apparently serve it once a week, so it may be considered pub food? Given that it is supposed to be great against hangovers, it totally makes sense. 
When preparing a Solyanka, you can use any kind of meat you prefer, making it a great way to use left-overs. For my recipe, the amount should  be around 500g (17.5 oz). I have searched the omniscient spheres of the internet to find an authentic recipe, only to find out that there really is none. It is one of those recipes that everybody makes a bit different. So I have taken what I liked best and created my own version.



  • 140 g (5 oz) pork chop,cut into thin slices
  • 125 g (4.5 oz) bacon bits
  • 200 g (7 oz.) bologna style sausage, cut into stripes about 3mm thick
  • 2 wieners, cut into slices
  • 2 tbsp. paprika spice
  • 3 gloves of garlic, chopped up
  • 200 g (7 oz.) tomato pasta
  • 3 bell peppers (I used 2 red and 1 yellow one)
  • 250 g (8.8 oz) cherry tomatoes
  • 5 sour pickled cucumbers/gherkins (about 200 g or 7 oz)
  • 2 onions
  • 1,5 l (50 fl. oz) beef broth 
  • 200 ml (6.75 fl. oz) pickle juice
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 dashes of tabasco
  • Crème frâiche or sour cream
  • parsley, chopped

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, mix meat with garlic, paprika and 1 tablespoon of the tomato paste.
  2. While meat is marinating, cut bell peppers into stripes, tomatoes into thirds, onions into half rings and pickles into 5mm (0.2'') thick slices.
  3. In a large pot, heat up oil on high heat, add meat along with onions. Reduce to medium heat, quickly sear content.
  4. Add vegetables, sauté slightly.
  5. Pour in beef broth and pickle juice.
  6. Add remaining tomato paste, tabasco and bay leaves.
  7. Let simmer on low heat for half an hour, remove bay leaves.
  8. Serve with dollop of crème frâiche or sour cream, garnish with parsley.

Vegetarian alternative:

The recipe may be on the meaty side, but as the flavour is already slightly resembling kimchi, replacing it with 500 g (17.5 oz) tofu, cut into cubes, gives it an Asian twist. Let tofu marinate like the meat, but instead of adding it right at the beginning, wait until step 5. You may want to make the tomato paste thinner by adding a teaspoon of whater so the tofu is easier to marinate. Also, replace beef broth with a vegetable broth. Omitting crème frâiche makes it vegan.


  1. You story captivated me from the first words and somehow reminded me of white nights by Dostoeivsky ; that stew sounds familiar, if not for the pickles thrown in there which sounds typically russian! Great post, entertaining!

    1. Hi Joumana,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. I was wondering whether I'm making a fool out of myself, actually. :)

  2. A hearty and comforting stew is always welcome, esp. when you have a COLD spring...I was fascinated with the opening story ;-)

    1. Thank you, Angie! Yeah it's COLD! Isn't it? I remember last year around this time we had our first barbecue and now I consider taking out my mittens again. :(

  3. My first taste of Solyanka was in a hotel bar in Petersburg, so maybe it really is pub food. We had arrived on the midnight train from Moscow, I was exhausted and starving. The hot tea with sugar and lemon had been wonderful, but not enough. (If you have taken that train, you know what I mean.)
    I make some version of Solyanka fairly often. Thanks for sharing your story and your recipe!

  4. This stew looks wonderfully tasty with all the cured meats and spices in it. Would love to have a bowl with some crusty bread. Captivating story! :)

    Nice to meet you and thanks for visiting my blog. Happy Easter!

  5. Sounds delicious and certainly looks it too.

    BTW You are welcome to join in my food blogger event THE SOUP KITCHEN, here all bloggers are welcome, hope to see you participate soon.

  6. I read the ingredients list and thought, "I could make this on 'clean the fridge' day." It's a little bit of everything. :)

    Love the writing, please don't stop.

  7. I like your style of writing. Vaguely I remember the name solyanka.. it can be too that my russian friend had mentioned it. What I adore of the recipe is the combination of acid pickles, cream and a tomato meat base. wonderful flavoures, which I ll have to try out now.

  8. Hi Tobias! Nope, I've never heard of Solyanka before, but this stew looks delicious! Adding pickles juice sounds very interesting and I'm curious to try the stew flavor. Another beautiful dish, story, and pictures Tobias! Perfect looking stew!!!

  9. Great photos of the solyanka - I always find it so difficult to take good photos of soup/stew type dishes but you've definitely mastered it! My mom used to make this all the time when I was growing up - can't remember exactly how she made it but definitely a little bit different from yours!

  10. What a great story beautifully written! And as for the stew, it looks wonderful! Would love to try the vegetarian version, the pickle juice sounds very intriguing :)

  11. I love solyanka, I always ordered it whenever I visited Ukraine:) Unfortunatlly in Poland we don't eat it as a rule but I prepare it home from time to time!
    Nice presentation

    Life and travelling

  12. Hi Tobias - my first time on your blog, found my way here looking for 'solyanka' on Foodgawker (had my solyanka photo/recipe accepted yesterday :))
    I make mine slightly differently, but it's been a favourite soup for ages!

  13. Valeriya switched on the hob to warm up the Solyanka she ready the evening before. That is what she always does before going out: A satisfying Solyanka for the hangover she is always certain she will experience from. She was not incorrect.
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