I spent an exhilarating day in St. Petersburg recently, viewing the magnificent treasures of the Hermitage Museum. Tired and hungry by lunchtime, we wanted a typical Russian meal. Our guide took us to a restaurant that specialized in solyanka, a soup made with pickles, pickle brine and at least three types kinds of smoked meat. Pastrami, smoked ham, sausages, frankfurters, chicken and bacon are all options, but it is common to add some typical Russian boiled sausage that’s similar to bologna. (You can chop all the meat into the same sized cubes or not – it doesn’t affect the taste.) I used pancetta, chorizo and Montreal smoked meat – you can use whatever you can find at the store or butcher. This dish has become a hearty dinner staple in our household, served with with sour cream, lots of dill and good rye bread. It is like eating a smoked-meat sandwich in a soup.

Ready time: 1 hour, not including sitting time
Servings: 4

1 tbsp olive oil

2 1/2 oz (75 g) pancetta, chopped

3 1/2 oz (100 g) chorizo, chopped

4 oz (115 g) smoked meat, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

6 cups beef or chicken stock

1 tsp allspice berries

1 tbsp peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 large potato, peeled and cut into small cubes

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

3 large pickled cucumbers, finely chopped

1/2 cup pickle brine

2 tsp capers, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1/2 large lemon, sliced

2 tbsp chopped dill

1/3 cup sour cream or more to taste

Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta, chorizo and smoked meat. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes or until the meat begins to produce fat. Add onion and carrot and sauté for 2 minutes or until tender. Remove meat and vegetables to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Discard fat.

Place stock into a large pot over medium heat. Put allspice, peppercorn and bay leaf into a tea egg or tie together in cheese cloth to form a pouch and place in stock. Add the cubed potato, tomato paste and paprika. Bring to boil and then simmer for 5 minutes over medium heat. Stir in sautéed meats, onions and carrots, then add pickles, brine and capers. Simmer soup for 15 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for several hours or overnight to blend the flavours. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if needed and plenty of black pepper. Remove the bag of spices.

Serve, reheated, with a thin slice of lemon, chopped dill and a dollop of sour cream in every bowl. Taste for seasoning again.