The twinkling light of candles. Your grandmother’s laughter. The clinking sound made by two glasses of champagne, meeting. Your sister’s sigh of exasperation. The scrape of a fork over a porcelain plate. Your mother’s gentle reproach. Juice pouring from a carafe, ice and liquid mingling into one rhapsody. Your father’s loud, booming voice, halfway through a joke.
Just like no Russian New Year’s dinner would be complete without these, so it wouldn’t be complete without Olivier salad (also known as Salada Russa). And today, I’d like to share with you my vegetarian Olivier salad, a version of this classic that won’t have you missing the cow’s tongue and crayfish tails of the original.
I never really knew the provenance of Olivier salad. I have heard stories that it came from the estate of a Russian nobleman, whose French chef constantly regaled him with fantastical French dishes. When one salad became so well-liked it turned into a regular feature, the nobleman name it after the chef – Olivier salad. However, any relation between the dish and classical French cuisine remained completely accidental.
Wikipedia tells me the true story was quite a bit different. Olivier salad was born out of the hands of a Belgian chef, Lucien Olivier, who worked at the fabled Hermitage restaurant in Moscow. Though the original recipe was a closely guarded secret, one of Olivier’s entrepreneurial sous chefs once spied the mise-en-place needed for its preparation; that sous chef later left Hermitage and went to work for another Moscow restaurant, where he began to serve a salad of a dubiously similar make-up. The rest is history.
Today, no one serves Olivier salad the same way it was intended. The seven or so meats of the original have been replaced by ham, and maybe chicken. The fabled dressing gave way to store-bought mayonnaise. And the recipe is far from being a guarded secret anymore – in fact, it’s one of the first dishes I learned to make as a child!
My vegetarian Olivier salad is both an ode to the original, and an update for those who abscond meat. Instead of plain mayo, the dressing utilizes white wine vinegar and grainy French mustard. We set aside the ham and chicken and calf’s liver, but keep the hard-boiled egg that give the salad its protein. And for pickles, I use my homemade spicy garlic pickles, though you can use your favourite store-bought brand.
The resulting vegetarian Olivier salad is a filling, hefty meal that will satisfy any Russian household. And if you were lucky enough to be invited to a Russian Old New Year’s celebration this Thursday, I urge you to bring it with you – it will fit right in!
If you are looking for more Russian recipe inspiration, then you’re in luck! I will be taking over the Huffington Post Canada Living Instagram account next week, and showcasing some of my favourite Russian and Israeli recipes! Please follow my #huffposttakeover exploits over on the HuffPost Canada Living Instagram, January 18 to 22!
Vegetarian Olivier salad (Salada Russa)
- Two potatoes washed and cleaned
- Two carrots washed and cleaned
- three eggs
- Two large pickles chopped finely
- One small onion chopped finely
- 1 cup of frozen peas defrosted
- 2 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
- 2 teaspoons French white wine vinegar
- Two cloves of garlic
In a large pot, place carrots and potatoes with plenty of water. Bring to a boil, and cook potatoes and carrots until easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Cook three hard boiled eggs.
Peel potatoes, carrots and eggs (I use the back of a sharp paring knife to peel the potatoes and carrots). Chop finely. Combine in a large bowl with onions, pickles, peas and dressing ingredients. Mix until well combined – eggs will break a little, and that's OK – they will help flavour the sauce. Taste and correct seasonings. Let sit In the fridge for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight. Serve with a little bit of fresh dill on the side.