Monday, 14 August 2017

RUSSIAN SALAD with DILL and CAPER MAYONNAISE (Olivier Salad/Ρωσική Σαλάτα)

This salad, very popular and seen on tables all over Europe, is of Russian origin. Each country has its own way of preparing it. The Spanish version is interesting in that it contains tuna fish. In other places, chopped pieces of ham or turkey get the nod. The Greeks prefer a vegetarian version, possibly because they are of the opinion (quite a sensible one, I must say), that salad should include nothing else but vegetables and dressing. 

What is called Russian Salad today, started out as Olivier Salad; it was the invention of Lucien Olivier, a nineteenth-century chef who owned The Hermitage, a famous and exclusive restaurant in Moscow. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Maxim Gorky ... all had celebratory dinners at The Hermitage ... 

The original recipe for Olivier Salad does not survive, we are told that it was a rich mixture containing vegetables, goose, various other meats, and also on occasion, caviar. 

The scene of the crime: The Hermitage Restaurant, Moscow. The building survives still, and currently, it houses the School of Modern Drama
Interior of The Hermitage Restaurant in Moscow. 

It was the dressing, the mayonnaise which held it together, that made Olivier Salad or Russian Salad famous. Mayonnaise recipes were refined during the early 1800s and subsequently became popular. It was considered darn elegant to serve a dish slathered with mayonnaise. Slathered is a keyword: mayonnaise was used as a binding ingredient and then was additionally spread in a thick top layer as a means of decoration. Think of icing on cakes! 

The amount of mayo used has been toned down of late ...  Below is presented a good Greek version of Russian salad. It requires dicing, lots of dicing.   


1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup lima beans
2 medium carrots, diced
3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 eggs, hardboiled and chopped 
2 scallions diced
2 or 3 cornichons diced
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
vegetables for decoration

For the Dill and Caper Mayonnaise:

1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 tablespoon dill, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
zest of one lemon 
1/2 cup olive oil mayonnaise

Simple:  To the mayonnaise add the capers, dill, Dijon mustard and lemon zest. Mix well. Or, if you are ever so diligent, make a mayonnaise from scratch and proceed from there! 

Directions for the salad:

Each vegetable must be cooked individually until tender but not mushy. It's important to allow all the vegetables to cool down prior to mixing. 
  • In a medium pot bring some water to a boil. 
  • Add the carrots and cook until they are tender. Do not discard the cooking liquid. Using a slotted spoon transfer the carrots to a colander. Allow them to drain and then move them into a large bowl. 
  • To the cooking liquid, add the lima beans. Cook until tender, transfer to the colander, drain, add to the carrots. 
  • Repeat the same process with the peas and potatoes, cooking each only until tender. 
  • Let the vegetable mixture cool in the refrigerator for about an hour. 
  • Once the hour is up, season with the lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. 
  • Add the cornichons, the chopped eggs, the scallions, and the parsley. Toss well.
  • Fold the mayonnaise into the vegetables and place the salad in a serving bowl or, for a nicer presentation, mould it into a nice shape and decorate it with slices of red roasted peppers and cherry tomatoes. 
  • If you like, use other vegetables for decoration; make it look as fancy or as simple as you want!