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
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.
- leg of lamb, about 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs)
- brown/yellow onions, 2
- carrots, 2
- parsnip, 1
- salt, 2 Tbs per liter (or U.S. quart; 21/3 Tbs
per British Imperial quart) of water used
- black pepper, whole, 6
- bay leaf, 1
- butter, 2 Tbs
- tomato purée, 3 Tbs
- sauerkraut, 1/2 kg (1 pound)
- sausages, 3-5
- Estonian fermented, dill pickled cucumbers, 2
- mushrooms, one small tin of champignon stems and pieces
- capers in vinegar, 1 Tbs
- smetlana, crème fraîche or
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
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
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!