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Comfort Food and Books for Comfort

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Christina Stock Photo Solyanka stew became popular in east Germany during the Cold War and remains a popular dish today.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

A recipe from the past

and Maida Tilchen’s books

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

It was last year, when my mother Silvia flew in from Germany. She had been visiting every other year since I moved here in 1999. This time, it was spring. Getting up in the years, my world-traveling adventurer of a mother wanted to avoid the blistering heat of our New Mexico summers. She didn’t want to do any tourist things, but meet the people of Roswell who I consider friends.

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It was on one such occasion that I brought her to one of my favorite antique shops, or rather a mall, Main Street Antiques Mall on South Main Street. Our little antique shops give a perfect glimpse into Roswell’s past and show the variety of interests and hobbies its people had and have. The owners were there when we stepped in and after browsing the different stalls, we got to talking about Germany. They knew that I had started a column with recipes and books and asked me about a recipe they encountered on their last trip to east Germany, named Solyanka. Neither my mother nor myself had ever heard of it, but I wrote the name down.

The next day at the office, I found the recipe for this mysterious stew online. I knew it didn’t sound German and indeed, it is supposed to have originated in Russia/Ukraine. With Germany being divided after World War II until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Western Germany was influenced by the Western Allied Forces, and a lot by the U.S. — I used to love to go to the German/American friendship festivals in my old hometown in Wiesbaden. That is where I had my first taco, and we always hurried home with a huge container of American Neapolitan ice cream that the U.S. Army/Air Force wives would sell. It seems as if East Germany also encountered new foods, only by Russians. One of these foods that survived the end of the Soviet Union was a thick Russian stew: Solyanka.

I thought it might be fitting to try to make it myself while being on lockdown at my home office — I am only in the office on Mondays and Fridays to do my part in social distancing. This dish is fitting because it made me — for the very first time — empathize with East Germany under the oppression of the Soviets. I remember my cousins telling me that all cities and towns were under constant lockdown, especially if you were closer to the death zone and the border to West Germany. And that food was rationed. It was a normal thing for them.

If you wanted to visit somebody in a neighboring town, you had to get a permit, which was hard to get. Citizens were not permitted to travel outside their country, unless they had some elite politician vouch for them, or were able to bribe somebody. Only if you were over 65 and had a sibling or parent still alive in the west, you got one of those special travel permits. I guess they thought that if you decided to escape, you weren’t a great loss for the working class at that age. My family was such a divided family, having been separated since 1953, and nothing made me happier than when my great aunt in East Germany turned 65 and — after more than 30 years — was able to hug her sister (my grandmother) again when she visited us.

So, all this went through my mind while cooking this Russian dish, which I want to share with you, because David, the Russians and East Germans are correct: This Solyanka stew is delicious. I did have to adapt the recipe a little because I can’t get the specific style of smoked sausages here.

Solyanka/Suppe

Ingredients (serves four):

2 thick slices (size 12) Cotto salami, cubed

2 thick slices (size 12) hard salami, cubed

2 slices bacon, chopped

1 large sweet onion, diced

2 large red bell peppers, diced

1 small can tomato paste (165 g)

2 gherkin pickles (if you find it, the German kind; or bread and butter), diced

5 Tbsp of the pickle juice

½ Tbsp red chile paste or cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp paprika (preferable Hungarian)

½ bay leaf

6 cups beef broth

½ Tbsp German mustard or Dijon mustard

3 cloves of garlic, diced

sour cream

In a deep pot, fry the bacon until the fat is rendered — careful that it doesn’t get too brown; add the chopped Cotto salami and continue frying it for a minute. Add the salami for another minute, the onion until the onion turns translucent. Continue stirring so it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Now you can add the bell peppers, tomato paste and garlic. Continue frying it and stirring it until it is well-mixed. Add the pickles, pickle juice and all spices.

Add the broth and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and add salt or more chile/cayenne pepper if you like. If you aren’t in the mood for a spicy dish, just leave the chile out.

The Solyanka stew tastes best the next day after warming it up. Serve with a dollop of sour cream. For some reason, Russians really love sour cream. They add it to many of their dishes.

I found many varieties of this dish. It is a common leftover dish. Some recipe variations add potatoes, mushrooms and capers. This dish here is the basic one. You can add whatever you have in your refrigerator.

Books for comfort

Now to the next author of the New Mexico Book Co-op: Maida Tilchen. Her biography reads, “On my first visit to New Mexico in 1993, I fell in love with the place, its culture and its history. I met a lot of very creative people, including musicians, writers and artists. I felt so inspired and energized that I came home to Boston not wanting the trip to end, so I decided that if I wrote a novel set in New Mexico, it would be in my head and heart all the time. Just for fun but also in search of what to write about, I read everything I could find, but my favorite subject was the lives I learned about in memoirs, biographies and histories of the writers and artists of Santa Fe and Taos before World War II.”

Tilchen can look back on a groundbreaking career, “She served as a VISTA volunteer in southern Indiana; was a lesbian activist in Bloomington, Indiana in the 1970s; was promotions manager for Gay Community News (Boston) and has had many research and writing jobs in the educational field.”

She writes that she has visited New Mexico often since 1993. “After her first trip there, wanting to continue to live in the library-rich Boston area but to keep one foot in the Land of Enchantment, she started writing fiction set in New Mexico.”

So far, two books are available as e-book and as paperback at indiebound.org. Both received a multitude of awards.

Her book “Land Beyond Maps” was announced as winner of the 2009 New Mexico Book Award in the gay/lesbian category and was also a finalist for the 2009 New Mexico Book Award in the historical fiction category.

Here is the introduction of “Land Beyond Maps.”

“It tells of midlife lesbians and their friends in Santa Fe and the Navajo lands through the boom and bust of 1929, closely based on the true story of a landscape photographer Laura Gilpin (1891-1979), who is considered America’s most distinguished woman landscape photographer.

Ambitious archaeologists, zealous missionaries, quietly forceful Navajo women, and overeager tourists intensify this fast-paced story.”

“She’s Gone Santa Fe” is a finalist for the Historical Fiction 2014 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award; finalist for Gay/Lesbian GLBT 2014 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award and finalist for Historical Fiction – 2014 Golden Crown Literary Society “Goldie” Award.

The introduction is as follows, “In this historical novel set in the early 1920s, the dream of a young Brooklyn Jewish woman named Ree is to live with the Indians of the Southwest, far from the sweatshop where she works. To reach that goal, she studies anthropology at Columbia University, where the professor she idolizes, Ruth Benedict, is having an affair with her fellow student, Margaret Mead. When her professors think Ree is a loose cannon and won’t send her to the Southwest for her field work, she defiantly goes to New Mexico on her own. But before she reaches Navajoland, Ree works at a lesbian dude ranch that really existed; works for Boston heiress Mary Cabot Wheelwright to study Navajo culture from Hosteen Klah, a transgender medicine man; finds romance on a starlit mesa top with an elusive Navajo youth; travels in a sheepherder’s cozy wagon; and tries to find her place at a trading post in a remote Navajo community. “She’s Gone Santa Fe” tells a unique story based on real people and places of New Mexico, lesbian and anthropology history.”

For more information, visit landbeyondmaps.typepad.com.

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