Old World Tuesday: The Russian “Olivier” Salad

April 5, 2010 § 21 Comments

Behold the power and the glory of the Russian cold appetizer spread (commonly served to open a festive holiday meal, alongside an array of other delicacies): the “Olivier” salad! So called after a French chef at a Moscow restaurant who allegedly invented it, this all-time classic never fails to please the Russian heart. The salad is also popular in Bulgaria, where, if you remember, I spent four years going to college, and where it is known as russka salata,  or “the Russian salad.” Fair enough.

If you take a closer look at Russian dishes, this one in particular, you realize that they frequently involve multiple ingredients cut into small (quite fine, really) pieces. I believe this has something to do with keeping women busy and out of trouble – I can think of no other reasonable explanation. Anyway, because I am a liberated, modern woman, I don’t make this dish a lot – just once every few years. Jacob’s excited when I do though.

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Boil a few potatoes, carrots, and eggs (or, to be precise, lots of potatoes, a few carrots, and a couple of eggs).

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Peel everything…

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Now pull out a few pickles. We’re going to dice everything pretty small.

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In case of the eggs, the world is lucky to be armed with this clever little device. Have you seen this before? The egg slicer?

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It’s really great. Just put in the egg…

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Bring the top part down onto the bottom part, and voila! The egg’s been sliced!

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Now re-orient your egg 90 degrees, and let the egg slicer cut it crosswise.

P1070628Like this. My eggs were kind of on the soft side, which is much softer than they should have been. I used the method my mother-in-law used for the Easter eggs – brought them to a boil, turned off the heat, and let them sit in the hot water. While this does indeed produce a tenderer egg, it’s not the best option for this salad. Normally I just let the eggs boil for 5 min.

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Place your chopped eggs in a large bowl, and add the rest of the vegetables, also diced pretty fine. Although if you look at this picture, you’ll see that it’s far from pretty fine. It’s far from any kind of “fine.” But that’s the matter of your personal level of perfectionism. Mine is not very high. Not very high at all.

Two things:

1) The potato chunks in this picture look larger than they actually are because, even after being cut, the potato slices are still sort of “glued” together by potato starch. But don’t you worry! They will happily separate after you add the dressing (see the final picture – no slices!)

2) The said starch will also make the potatoes a little harder to slice/dice – dip your knife in cold water frequently as you cut to make it glide smoothly without sticking.

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Next we’re gonna need these three things – some sour cream, some mayo, and a can of green sweet peas. The canned peas are to me a subject of a great nostalgia, especially since, for my particular family, it was always either unavailable or unaffordable. Had to come all the way to America to partake of it freely. To partake of anything freely, really.

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Next, you need to drain your peas. I like to do it by cutting the can open partway and using the resulting opening to pour out the liquid.

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I then open the can all the way, and…

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Dump the whole thing into my salad. To which I also add a generous pile of finely chopped parsley (dill is also commonly used, but I didn’t have any on hand)…

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And chives (or scallions, as I did in the Old Country, but here I have my own little chive patch).

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Now for the dressing – I use equal parts sour cream and mayo, along with some salt, pepper, and a dash or two of red-wine (or champagne or white wine) vinegar (not shown), just to add an extra bite.

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Now stir everything together, and you’re done! This is best when chilled in the fridge overnight.

The Russian “Olivier” Salad

  • several potatoes
  • several carrots (fewer than potatoes)
  • a couple of eggs
  • 3-4 pickles
  • 1 can sweet green peas (you MUST use the canned ones to re-create the air of Soviet nostalgia)
  • sour cream
  • mayo
  • a dash of wine vinegar
  • chopped parsley (and/or dill) and chives (or scallions)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Boil the vegetables until fork-tender and hard-boil the eggs. Let the eggs and the vegetables cool completely. Chop everything finely and place into a large bow. Chop the pickles and add them to a bowl as well, along with the chopped parsley and chives/scallions. Add the drained peas. Add a generous dollop each of mayo and sour cream, a dash of vinegar, salt, and pepper, and stir gently until everything is completely incorporated. The salad tastes best the next day.

Variations: People often add a chopped apple and some sort of diced sandwich/cold meat, such as cooked chicken, to this salad. I usually don’t, since I find the salad to be plenty rich as it is, but consider experimenting.

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