This traditional Russian beef stew recipe makes solyanka, a delicious hearty stew or heavy soup that’s a little sour, a little sweet, and was a whole lot saltier back in its day. First mentioned in print in the 15th century, solyanka is an ancient dish made for modern times: invented to use leftovers, it’s a one-pot dish that is filling and comforting.
My traditional Russian beef stew recipe is for those of you who are freezing down in the southern hemisphere, particularly my sister Felicia and other family members and friends in the southern parts of Australia where they’re experiencing a particularly brutal winter.
My sister recently made my classic beef Stroganoff recipe without mushrooms, as my niece isn’t a mushroom lover. As mushrooms are essential to an authentic beef Stroganoff, I thought I’d share this warming beef stew recipe, which our Russian grandmother used to make. While it still contains mushrooms, they won’t be missed if left out.
This traditional Russian stew recipe for solyanka will make you a hearty stew – or a heavy soup if you prefer – and it’s one of my favourite beef stew recipes, based on my baboushka’s recipe, which I grew up eating in the 1970s. First mentioned in written form in the 15th century, although thought to be far older, solyanka started out as a village dish or ‘peasant food’, so it was probably a lot thinner than my grandmother’s rendition.
Although it has to be said that solyanka has long been thought to have been invented to use up leftovers, which explains all the bits and pieces, and why some solyanka recipes call for several kinds of meats and sausages, and ingredients such as dill pickle juice. So maybe it wasn’t a thin soup back in the day, after all.
Garnished with plenty of fresh fragrant dill and eaten with sour cream (smetana), dill pickles, and – my recommendation: a Russian garden salad, and black bread – solyanka is quintessentially Russian. Don’t even think about washing it down with anything but vodka. Before I tell you about my traditional Russian beef stew recipe, I have a favour to ask.
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Russian Beef Stew Recipe for Solyanka, a Medieval Dish for Modern Times
If you’ve eaten or cooked a little Russian food, you might be looking at my Russian beef stew recipe and wondering if it’s the same stew you ate with fish or even just with mushrooms. And that’s probably because it is. During Russian Orthodox fasting days, when followers temporarily become pescetarians or vegetarians, solyanka takes the form of a fish stew or even a mushroom stew, which can easily be made as a vegan stew.
Back in the medieval period, Russia’s peasants would not have eaten beef everyday, anyway. They mainly ate fish and vegetables on a day-to-day basis, and reserved beef for special occasions, such as weddings, and feast days or holidays. In those medieval villages, solyanka would probably have been served as a soup rather than a stew, too, as a soup stretches and feeds more hungry mouths.
My babouskha made solyanka as a very hearty stew, her enormous soup pot packed with beef pieces, sausages and vegetables plucked from their backyard veggie garden. My mum and dad made a similar stew in the Crockpot, but without pickles and capers, and with the addition of red wine.
I don’t know if my parents intentionally tweaked baba’s Russian beef stew recipe or if they were just doing their own thing. So many culinary cultures have beef, potato and carrot stews. What makes this quintessentially Russian is the inclusion of gherkins or dill pickles and pickle brine, along with fresh dill and sour cream.
If you enjoy my traditional beef stew, do try my authentic beef Stroganoff recipe. I’m convinced that Stroganoff evolved from this stew and wasn’t introduced by a French chef. Now I’ve just got a few tips for you to making this traditional Russian beef stew recipe.
Tips for Making this Traditional Russian Stew Recipe for Solyanka
I only have a few quick tips to making this classic Russian beef stew recipe, starting with the most important. While you might be very tempted to just throw everything into the wok or pot – or instant pot, slow cooker or oven – all at once, please don’t.
Look, you could if you really had to, but it just won’t taste anywhere near as delicious, and I won’t be held responsible. All of these ingredients benefit from browning first, especially the beef, which of course is one of the secrets to making a great stew – searing the meat first.
Your carrots and potatoes will probably break apart by the time you serve the stew if you start them when you start your meat, sausage, mushrooms etc. And while you could cook this for less time, if you’ve used a stewing beef it probably won’t be tender.
Instead, I recommend giving this Russian beef stew recipe a go when you have time to hang out near the kitchen, open a bottle of wine, and take the time to get up and stir the thing every now and again.
While most cooks would automatically reach for their favourite soup or stew pot, which these days tends to be a cast-iron pot, we love using our flat bottomed wok with a lid as it’s perfect for browning everything off at the beginning.
This beef stew is the kind of dish that my babouskha would have served as part of a family feast – one dish of many that might have included piroshki, Russian pelmeni, stuffed cabbage rolls, beetroot potato salad, maybe some chicken kotleti – and dishes of sour cream and gherkins, and plenty of black bread.
If you’re not feeding a whole family, you could easily serve this with mash potatoes and a green salad – rice works too; as does pasta – and you’ll probably have leftovers for the next night, which you can also freeze.
Traditional Russian Beef Stew Recipe
- 60 g smoked bacon lardons
- 400 g stewing beef chopped into large chunks
- 60 g spicy sausage such as fresh chorizo such as fresh chorizo, sliced
- 100 g brown mushrooms sliced thickly
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 250 ml water
- 200 ml tomatoes crushed
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 25 g gherkins finely chopped
- 1 tbsp pickled gherkin brine
- 1 tsp capers
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 carrot sliced thickly
- 6 baby potatoes
- 2 tbsp of fresh dill roughly chopped
- sour cream
- In a wok with lid or cast-iron pot, on medium heat, fry the bacon lardons or chopped bacon strips until the fat melts, then transfer the piece to an oven tray, taking care to save the bacon juices.
- Fry the slices of fresh chorizo (or another spicy or smoked sausage of your choice), then transfer to the tray with the bacon, keeping the juices.
- Turn the heat up high, and sear your beef pieces until brown, then move them to the oven tray to rest, saving those juices.
- Turn the heat down to medium, add the tablespoon of butter to the wok/pot, sauté the mushrooms in those wonderful juices, then set them aside.
- Lastly, sauté the onion until soft, then add the garlic and continue to sauté until the onion is transparent and the garlic is aromatic.
- Return the bacon, beef and sausage to your wok/pot, add the water, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, gherkins, pickled gherkin brine, capers, bay leaves, and paprika, combine everything well, and season with salt and pepper.
- Put the lid on your wok/pot, set the heat to medium, set your timer for 2 hours, and leave your stew to simmer. Stir occasionally and turn the heat down to low when the sauce thickens; if the sauce reduces too much, add a little more water.
- At 2 hours, add the carrots and baby potatoes, if necessary add more water, adjust the seasoning – the stew should be a little salty, a little sweet and little sour – then set your timer for another 30 minutes, continuing to stir occasionally; if your beef isn’t tender enough at 30 minutes, give it another half hour.
- When your beef is tender, add the fresh chopped dill, and serve with sour cream, more fresh dill, a dish of gherkins, a Russian garden salad, black bread, and vodka.
Please do let us know in the Comments below if you make this traditional Russian beef stew recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you, and we’d also love some feedback and a rating too.