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Soup Recipes | Eastern European Recipes | Recipes from P to T

Meat seljanka (pronounced with a soft j, like an English y) is a traditional Estonian soup for people who work hard and eat well; none of that watery, unfulfilling nonsense. Two kinds of meat and a healthy variety of vegetables yield a thick, rich soup. As it is a traditional dish, ingredients and proportions may vary, but in general, Seljanka features at least the ingredients listed here. Many recipes would also include olives, but I personally find that to be Bad and Evil.

The soup is good for making in large batches, and is a nutritious meal with a healthy and fulfilling variety of ingredients. This also gives the soup a deliciously rich flavor. The fermented pickles and sauerkraut are believed to help prevent cancer.

It takes a while to make, but doesn't require too much attention in the process, and it is quite easy to make. Hopefully these instructions will be easy enough for just about anybody to follow. Cooking time is 60-90 minutes, and the below quantities should yield around 4 liters (about a gallon) of soup.


All quantities are approximate except the salt. Estonian pickles are very different from regular pickles, which are generally much sweeter. I have been unable to find them where I live, but I can get Polish pickles, Polskie ogorki, which are a reasonably close match. The important thing is to find a pickle with a mild sour that complements the sauerkraut rather than clashes with it. The ogorki are slightly smaller though, so I usually take about three or four of those. The number of sausages also depend on their size from 3 for thick, German-style pork sausages to five for thin beef sausages.

Step the First: All That Meat

My local grocery store has big, chunky legs of lamb. They call them roast lamb leg, but you don't have to roast it. In fact: don't. Instead, rinse it with cold water and stick it in your biggest pot (which should be able to hold at least 5 l (about 114 gal). Pour cold water over the meat until it is just covered. Measure and remember how much water you used. While bringing the water to the boil, proceed to the next step.

Raw meat may contain bacteria. These will not survive the cooking, but always wash everything thoroughly, including your hands, that has been in direct or indirect contact with raw meat.

Step the Second: Chop, Chop, Chop

Peel and chop two onions. No need to do it too finely; five cuts down and five across for each half onion should do the trick. Peel (if needed) two carrots and cut them into coin-sized pieces. Peel and chop a parsnip fairly finely.

Step the Third: Spice Up Your Lamb

When the water with the lamb has been brought to the boil, add 2 Tbs of salt per liter water used. Add the pepper and the bay leaf.

Step the Fourth: Pot the Second

Stick two Tbs of butter in a pot about half the size of the large one and set on medium heat. When the butter is golden brown, add the chopped vegetables. Stir occasionally; do not brown the onion. After a few minutes, add the tomato purée and 3 dl (1 1/4 cup) of the water from the lamb. After another couple of minutes, add the sauerkraut and cover with a lid, letting it simmer at low heat.

Step the Fifth: The Long, Long, Long Wait

Go watch some television, write a node or two, have a cup of tea. Check on the smaller pot now and then to ensure that the sauerkraut isn't sticking to the bottom of the pan. If need be, add some more water from the lamb to the vegetables to prevent this. The meat should take about 40 minutes to an hour to cook, and when done, should be relatively easy to separate from the bone.

Step the Sixth: Where It All Comes Together

Get the meat out of the pot and place it on a nice, big cutting board with a big, sharp knife in one hand and a big, sturdy fork in your other and carve the meat up bite-size cubes, getting rid of the bone. Put the meat back in the big pot. Add the stuff from the smaller pot.

Cut the sausages up into bite-size pieces. Cut the pickled cucumbers into coin-sized pieces. Add the sausages, pickles, and capers to the soup. Let it all cook for a couple of minutes.

The soup stores well, and can be frozen and reheated. Serve very hot with cold smetlana or similar and with Estonian sourdough bread, võileib. The best beverages for this dish are beer or water. Fresh fruit makes an excellent dessert. Enjoy!

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