“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.
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.