Olivier Salad

Olivier Salad (салат "Оливье") is one of those dishes that is almost synonymous with Russian cuisine.  In the ten years or so that I lived in Moscow, there were very few dinner tables that weren't graced with this salad.  As a kid, it was one of the few Russian dishes that I actually enjoyed eating (I wasn't a fan of a lot of them, like "Herring under a Fur Coat" (селёдка под шубой)...see the link for the recipe if you like, as it won't be on this blog anytime soon).

Olivier salad, also known as Russian Salad, was originally invented by Lucien Olivier for the Hermitage restaurant in Moscow in the 1860's; it was then adapted by Ivan Ivanov, who later sold the recipe for publication.  Over the years, it gained in popularity not only in Russia, but throughout the rest of the Soviet Union and even Europe.  There are many variations of the salad, including meatless versions, salads with chicken, ham or bologna, and even a version in Pakistan with pineapple!

My version includes the following:

  • 3 golden potatoes
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 1 C frozen peas
  • 4 hardboiled eggs
  • 6 small kosher dill pickles
  • 1 - 1 1/2 C olive oil mayonnaise
  • 3/4 C diced smoked ham (optional)
  • finely chopped dill, to garnish

The first step here is to cook your potatoes and carrots.  I used a steamer, but you can always go the traditional route and boil them.  In either case, peel the carrots but not the potatoes.  If you are steaming (or nuking in the microwave to streamline the process), make sure to prick the potatoes with a fork.  I'm not sure that they would actually explode in a steamer, but given that you want to end up with neatly diced potato cubes, better safe than sorry.  And did I mention that stabbing potatoes with a fork does wonders for relieving stress?

Steam the potatoes for 30 minutes to start with, and then add the peeled carrots.  Continue steaming for 10-15 more minutes, or until the potatoes and carrots are firm but tender when poked.

Meanwhile, you can cook your frozen peas according to package directions.  I use the kind that can be steamed in the package in the microwave.  When they are done, set them aside to cool.  

Note: there are traditionalists who will argue that nothing but canned peas will do in this salad, but I beg to differ.  The faded, dull color and taste of canned peas just cannot compare to fresh or frozen steamed peas.

When the potatoes and carrots are done, allow them to cool to the point that you can handle them easily.

Now you can peel your spuds.  Using your fingers or the back of a knife, gently scrape the thin layer of skin off of the potatoes.

Now dice them into 1/2-inch cube-ish shapes and put them into a medium serving bowl.

Next, dice your carrots.  I've heard it said that a Soviet housewife could be judged on her housekeeping skills by how finely she could dice vegetables for her soups and salads.  I, however, won't judge you.  In fact, if you chop your potatoes and carrots a little larger, I would probably even thank you.  I happen to like chunky salads.

Toss the carrots and a cup of steamed peas into the bowl with the potatoes.

Now you can peel and dice your hardboiled eggs.  Again, I know some like to have their salads with finely diced ingredients, but I don't.  So dice them however you like.

Pickle time!  I used small snacking dill pickles, so I needed to use six of them.  If you have larger pickles, try using three and see if that is enough for you.

Chop them finely or coarsely, it's up to you.

Add the ham if using and mix everything together gently before you add the mayonnaise.

Stir in one cup of mayo to start with, and add more if you think that the salad needs more binding together.

Cover the salad and chill for at least one hour or overnight to allow the flavors to come together.  And of course, garnish with dill.  This is a Russian salad, after all!

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