Solyanka: Russian Beef Soup for the Olympic Soul

Tropical girl that I am, the Winter Olympics have never held much fascination for me.

Yes, there’s figure skating — which I adore — but the rest of it usually goes by in a bewildering blur for me once the games start. (Of course, all of this could change should I ever decide to get off my tush and actually go skiing for the first time.)

Olympics-inspired food, however — now that fascinated me. So when our Let’s Lunch crew decided on an Olympic spirit-themed lunch to toast the opening of the Sochi games, I was in.

What to make? A certain Russian sweet and sour beef soup seemed just the thing for snowy conditions …

I’d come across solyanka during a recent craving for hot homemade soup. I’ve been on a soup-making jag at home recently, and that’s been lovely and great, but after a while, my random clear-the-fridge soups can feel a little haphazard. That’s when a Saveur Tweet about Solyanka, a hearty Russian sweet and sour beef soup caught my eye.

Now, having never made or eaten this before, I wanted to make sure what I might be concocting was the real deal, so I ran this recipe by a dear friend who’s not only of Russian descent but has had solyanka in Russia. It looked legit, he said, noting that instead of sour cream, he’d had it in Russia with creme fraiche or mayonnaise.

The recipe is pretty daunting — the ingredient list alone is head-spinning. But if there’s anything I learned in my research for A Tiger in the Kitchen, it’s that many memorable dishes aren’t the easiest to make.

So, off I went …

First, I fried up minced bacon and removed that. Then fried some beef, kielbasa, salami and ham in the bacon fat.

Once that was browned, in went the onions and celery.

Next, I added beef stock, tomato paste and crushed whole tomatoes …

… and then came my favorite part: capers and pickles. These two things are just about my favorite ingredients in the world. I’m a big fan of the sour and tart.

Once that’s all boiled for a while, stir in sliced lemons, sugar, salt and pepper and you’re ready to go!

How was it? Out of this world. (And I don’t mean that lightly.)

Each spoonful came with meat of some sort wrapped in comforting tomato flavors. And though the soup was incredibly hearty, the tartness of the capers, pickles and lemon cut through and made sure there wasn’t any heaviness. The creme fraiche, parsley and scallions mixed in? The perfect cappers.

Just the thing to have in a hot bowl when those figure skaters are on.


Don’t forget to check out other Let’s Lunchers’ Sochi Olympic-inspired offerings below! And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.

Annabelle‘s Olympic Torch-inspired Flaming Cheese at Glass of Fancy

Anne Marie‘s Rainbow Chard Sochi Sliders at Sandwich Surprise!

Betty Ann‘s Ham-Pineapple Garlic Rice at Asian In America

Cheryl‘s Vegetarian Poutine at Miss Cheryl Tan

Grace‘s Coconut Hot Chocolate and Kahlua at HapaMama

Jill‘s “Go For The Gold” Honeybell Chess Pie at Eating My Words

Linda‘s Meyer Lemon Afternoon Cake at Free Range Cookies

Linda‘s Guinness Stout Ice-Cream at Spicebox Travels

Lisa‘s Hot Borscht at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Lucy M‘s Russian Tea at A Cook and Her Books

Mai‘s American (Chocolate Guinness) Whoopie Pie at Cooking in the Fruit Bowl

Margaret‘s Olympic King Cake at Tea and Scones

Nancie‘s Kotleti (Russian Hamburgers) and Kasha at Nancie McDermott


Solyanka (Russian Sweet and Sour Beef Soup)

Recipe from Saveur

Makes 10 cups


  • 1 lb. beef chuck, trimmed
  • 8 oz. kielbasa sausage
  • 4 oz. boneless ham steak
  • 2 oz. hard salami
  • 4 whole black peppercorns
  • 3 whole allspice berries
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 oz. sliced bacon, minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
  • ¼ small head green cabbage, cored and thinly shredded
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 6 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 (15-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed
  • 5 cups beef stock
  • 1½ large dill pickles, chopped
  • 1½ tbsp. capers, drained
  • ¼ cup pitted black olives, sliced
  • 1½ tbsp. sugar
  • ½ lemon, thinly sliced
  • Chopped parsley, sliced scallions, and sour cream, for serving


1. Cut beef, kielbasa, ham, and salami into ¼” pieces; set aside. Place peppercorns, allspice, and bay on a piece of cheesecloth and tie into a tight package; set aside.

2. Heat bacon over medium-high heat in a 6-qt. saucepan; cook until crisp, 4–6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a bowl; set aside. Add meats to pot; cook until browned, 6–8 minutes. Add onion, celery, cabbage, and salt and pepper; cook until soft, 4–6 minutes. Stir in tomato paste; cook, until slightly caramelized, about 2 minutes.

3. Return bacon to pot with spice package, tomatoes, and stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, add pickles and capers; cook until beef is very tender, 40–45 minutes.

4. Remove spice package. Stir in olives, sugar, lemon, and salt and pepper. Serve with parsley, scallions, and sour cream.


16 thoughts on “Solyanka: Russian Beef Soup for the Olympic Soul

  1. Aw Cheryl, I love that you decided to make this after all! I’m honored you considered my request. :) This looks super delicious and given it’s 20 degrees out right now, I sure can use a bowl!

    • But of course! I was going to make some soup for lunch anyway and thought, why not? It was DELICIOUS. And now I have two giant tubs of it for the rest of the Olympics. Thanks for the nudge! xx

  2. I am in awe at your ambitious choice for #LetsLunch Olympic Edition, and send you a virtual Gold Medal for tenacity and aiming high. It looks SO delicious and complex, satisfying warming, and gorgeous. Never heard of it before; now I gotta have it!

    • A gold medal!! I’ve always wanted one. I absolutely recommend this soup. I loved every spoonful and can’t wait to see if the flavors intensify overnight…

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