Soljanka – a hearty dish that was omnipresent on our trip through Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia. It probably is the best known Russian soup besides Borschtsch. It’s popular all around Eastern Europe and exists in uncountable variations.
In Germany the popularity basically is limited to the eastern part of the country. 40 years of separation into two different states left its traces – by far not only, but as well in terms of culinary traditions. Due to ‘socialist brotherhood’ a lot of Russian, but also Polish, Czech, Hungarian recipes and dishes found their way to the GDR. After more than 25 years of German Unity most of the socialist heritage in Eastern Germany has vanished – at least at the surface. Coming from Western Germany one can only try to imagine what this immense changes demanded from the people. How would I have felt if – basically over night – the whole system I lived would have gone, not only gone, but judged ‘the wrong’? I guess it’s understandable to feel one’s whole life kind of devaluated.
So, I guess its important that not everything of this 40 years is trying to be erased, especially when it comes to everyday culture, cause it is the (hi)stories of people.
And so we ate ourself through Pelmeni, Plinsen and Soljanka…
The latter is a perfect autumn and winter dish and, once at home, I immediately tried my own version.
The name Soljanka actually means ‘salted’ in Russian, cause an important ingredient in this Russian soup where salted vegetables. Most recipes nowadays use regular gherkins, f.ex. the famous Spreewaldgurken (Spreewald gherkins). Apart from that most of the ingredients are mutable. The base of the popular GDR recipe was tomato paste, Letscho/Lecsó and leftovers of sausages and cured meat. I made my Soljanka instead ‘from scratch’ with tomatoes and bell peppers and I substituted sausage and meat leftovers with smoked tofu, added smoked paprika powder. But the flavours of Eastern European cuisine are still present: gherkins and brine, a bit of mustard, dill and sour cream.
And although I didn’t grow up with Soljanka, don’t have sentimental (or traumatic) memories with it, this dish could well from now on become one of ‘my recipes’.
And if you’re lucky enough to still find some gherkins for pickling on the farmes market, you should hop over to Julia and try her recipe to stock up your pantry. I came to late this year 😦
Vegetarian Soljanka (2-3 p.)
1-2 tablespoons oil, 1 onion, 1 garlic clove, 1 bell pepper, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika powder, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika powder, 1 small can chopped tomatoes, 5-6 cornichons (small gherkins), 200 g smoked tofu, 2-3 tablespoons pickling water of gherkins, 250 ml vegetarian stock, 1 laurel leaf, 2 tablespoons chopped dill, 1-2 teaspoons mustard, salt and pepper to taste
for serving: slices of lemon, chopped dill, sour cream
Peel onion and garlic, wash and deseed bell pepper. Cut onion and bell pepper in cubes. Chop garlic. In a medium size pot heat oil and stir fry onion and garlic, add bell pepper. After a few minutes add sugar and let caramelize. Add paprika powders, stir a few seconds (watch the paprika powder not to burn) and add canned tomatoes. Add pickling water, vegetable stock and laurel. When it starts cooking, reduce to low temperature. Slice gherkins and cube tofu and add them to the soljanka, chopped dill as well. Close lid and simmer for 30 minutes. Add some water if needed. Season to taste with mustard, salt and pepper. Serve with lemon, some more dill, a dollop of sour cream and perhaps a slice of bread. Leftovers can easily be reheated and eaten the other day.