Sunday, June 08, 2008

Salad Olivier

“A young woman, trapped in Brighton Beach by her immigrant parents’ expectations, finds her place at the family table by sitting down with a knife to make Salad Olivier. It is the Russian party dish par excellence: a mound of hard-boiled eggs, canned peas, pickles, potatoes and meat, diced and bound with a tangy mayonnaise. For particularly swanky occasions, the salad is covered with aspic.”

The above passage is from a New York Times article about the Russian immigrant writer Lara Vapnyar. A lot of Vapnyar’s stories reference food, and I was amused to see Salad Olivier singled out. The Times makes it sound like Olivier is a joke, a dish on par with jello salads or sloppy joes on the American table. Yet no Russian celebration is complete without it. I usually bypass Olivier because clumps of mayo turn me off, but I wouldn’t mind a lighter version, made with yogurt-based dressing and frozen rather than canned peas—a gentrified, upscale Olivier, if you will. In fact, this weekend, I had a request to make Olivier for a family cookout. I hemmed and hawed for a while, but then gave in. My version is pretty traditional, save for the dressing.

Method:

Peel and boil 3-4 potatoes and a couple of carrots until soft—be careful not to overcook the carrots. Cook 3 eggs until hard-boiled. Cool the eggs and vegetables completely.

Cube the potatoes and carrots; place in a salad bowl. Add ¼ cup finely chopped red onion and 3-4 cubed dill pickles. Peel and finely chop the eggs; add to the salad, along with ¼ cup of finely chopped parsley or dill (or both). Add a couple of cups of cubed ham, cooked chicken or cooked beef. Add ½ cup peas (the frozen kind, defrosted beforehand—not canned, please.)

For the dressing, get a bowl and mix some sour cream, plain or Greek yogurt (or mayo), ½ tsp. sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, a splash of pickle brine and some kosher salt and black pepper. Dress the salad right before serving. Spruce up with a parsley sprig and a tomato slice.

14 comments:

sara said...

loved this post. as you say, many times people think this is a quick dish where to throw all your leftovers but here in spain we love it and make it the proper way, cooking fresh vegetables and not overloading it with mayo. it is so popular here that even we know very well its origin : we call it russian salad :)
i'll be making your version all summer long. thanks for sharing and telling people what the real thing is!

adele said...

Hmm. I might make this for a Fourth of July party - it would make a nice change from the standard potato salad, I think.

Yulinka said...

Sara--thanks for dropping by. Olivier is just one version of the "Russian salad"--there are lots of different potato/mayo-based salads.

Adele--I'm no fan of the standard potato salad, but I do like uppity versions with new potatoes, olive oil, and roasted veggies.

Sophie said...

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Anonymous said...

I am eating my olivier salad as I am typing this. Decided to see what other people say about the salad and came across your blog. Cute. To make it more Russian, you actually must use canned peas and skip Greek yogurt. The reason is very simple - during the Soviet era, that that's when the salad reached its peak of popularity there was no such thing as frozen peas (let alone Greek yogurt). In addition, the quintessential ingredient of the salad is Bologna (ask you parents - "doktorskaya kolbasa)..Chicken,beef, (never heard of ham being put there)is a more glorified version ( incidentally the one I am eating right now is with beef). Anyway, why am I writing this - because certain things in life matter. Olivier matters! :-)

Yulinka said...

Hi Anon--I like a good oliver a once or twice a year. You're right, canned peas are a must if you're going for a really authentic version. My parents still buy canned peas only. Greek yogurt is for a lower-fat Americanized salad, of course. I prefer Hellmann's mayo. My protein of choice is actually boiled beef (very Soviet & authentic).

Anonymous said...

Funny - "Anon" :)..
Yes yes - boiled beef is the best. What I don't understand is - why the american potato salad tastes so radically different; the ingredients seem to be very similar but the taste is totally bizarre (sorry my american comrades, it is true). Theoretically, you should be able to use potato salad as the base for the olivie but NO.. anyway.. I shall go back to the kitchen and continue experiments with the potato salad. By the way, the French make a salad similar to Olivie and they do put ham in it: Salade Piemontaise...

Anonymous said...

American potato salad often contains mustard or celery and lacks meat. Hence the different flavor.

Natalya said...

I love this salad. I made it last week and ate it at work at a lunch time.
Your blog is nice: go on posting russian recipes !

Olga said...

this is one of my most favorite salads!
Lately, when I make it I use defrosted peas: adds a nice touch and also Granny Smith apple.

Chris Ciolli said...

Great post.

Tim said...

I'm making (again) this as I write. I really love the idea, but can definitely do without the bologna.

This time, I putting in cubed brisket and crayfish tails, maybe chicken breast. The salad itself will be or course potatoes, carrots, parsnips, baby peas, capers, shallot, celery (deribbed and chopped fine), eggs, brine pickles, pickled carrots and of course lots of fresh dill. I was going to use duck breast but that just costs too much.

The dressing, though, is what gets me. I'm making a basic mayo of eggs and good quality oil, and adding champagne vinegar, fresh ground white pepper, powdered mustard, and a tiny bit of garlic powder and even less cayenne pepper. Everyone says to just use store bought mayonnaise but you are really selling yourself short there ...

Anonymous said...

THE SALAD OF MY LIFE! And love the healthier version by the way. HOWEVER, to truly experience the real taste (of Communism and Perestroika:) you absolutely have to use canned peas and mayo. OLIVIER is not just a salad...it's an experience of Soviet history! (By the way, in my grandma's kitchen, it was always served with Madame Bovary).

Russian Recipe said...

Lucian Olivier must be turning in his grave - the place where he took the original secret recipe he developed. On the other hand, and thanks to Olivier's employee who tried to steal the recipe, this eventually became a truly national Soviet dish. Everyone had a different version. If anything, it's a good way of disposing of extra leftover meat or sausage! :)

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