let’s be honest with ourselves. russians are not, on the whole, dainty people. the legendary founder of the country, rurik the russ, wasn’t a professional figure skater. he was a viking, and in order to keep on fighting and pillaging the coasts, vikings have to eat. ever heard the “song of the volga boatmen,” or seen ilya repin’s painting barge haulers on the volga? look those up, and you’ll have an idea of what i’m talking about.
so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that russians love to eat. and when i say eat, i don’t mean granola and pine nuts and bark and small rocks and other bird food. i mean real food. russian food isn’t meant to make you thin and dainty and fair-skinned. pelmeni, pickles, black bread, salo, borscht, and countless other rib-sticking dishes form the backbone of russian cuisine.
salat olivier is yet another vertebra in the backbone of russian cuisine. it is one of the most indispensable foods around new years in russia, and could very well be one of russia’s most widely consumed salads. so much so that, in other countries (such as turkey, macedonia, serbia, turkey, and spain) it is simply referred to as “russian salad.”
- three or four new potatoes
- one cucumber (or a few pickles, salted not vinegared)
- five eggs
- a chicken breast
- half an onion
- olive oil
- yogurt (drained)
- black pepper
- green onions
- peas (frozen is best)
- get ready to boil, because you are going to be doing a lot of it. wash your potatoes and get any dirt off of them, and then add them to a pot of hot, slightly salted water. boil them until you can pierce them easily with a fork, then drain them and take off the skins. set them aside to cool.
- heavily salt some water and add the eggs. the salt will allow the shells to be removed more easily. bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and then turn off the heat. set the pot aside covered for around 20 or 25 minutes. this method produces easily the softest hardboiled eggs i have ever had in my life. once finished, drain the water and set the eggs (still in their shells) in the refrigerator or a bowl of ice water to cool.
- take the plastic part that holds your coffee filter out of your coffee maker and set it on top of a cup. put in a coffee filter, and fill the filter with yogurt. wait about 20 or 25 minutes, and then discard the inch or so of light brown liquid that has collected in the cup.
- remove the skin, rinse, and dry your chicken breast. put it in a frying pan with half an onion and enough chicken stock to cover. bring to a simmer and cook until done all the way through. set aside. add one or two big handfuls of your frozen peas in the remaining chicken stock. don’t cook them too long or they will turn to mush and ruin the texture of your salad. set them aside to cool. discard the onion and stock when finished.
- quarter your cucumber or pickles lengthwise, and then cut them into wedges. while you are at it, cut the base off the green onions and chop extremely finely.
- when all the cooked ingredients have cooled, cut them. the potatoes and chicken should be cut into bite-sized pieces. quarter the eggs lengthwise, and cut them into wedges. put the potatoes, chicken, eggs, green onions, cucumbers, and peas into a large mixing bowl.
- in another bowl, mix together strained yogurt and mayonnaise at a 1:1 ratio. gradually add a spoonful or two of olive oil. pour the dressing into the large mixing bowl once it reaches your desired texture.
- this next bit is important. this salad cannot be tossed, because it is honestly just too heavy. instead, use a wooden spoon or rubber scraper to fold the salad onto itself over and over. do this delicately, otherwise you will mash your potatoes and crush your juicy little peas. once adequately mixed, add salt and pepper to taste. then, add a copious amount of dill. you are cooking russian food, after all.
- consume in shameless abundance. i’m not going to pretend that this salad is heart healthy, or even that it is a real salad per se (in that it contains literally only two green ingredients, those being cucumber and green onions). but it is delicious and significantly more nutritious than tuna or egg salad. the addition of yogurt and olive oil is also a huge improvement over the way many russians make salat olivier (i.e. with cups upon cups of straight heavy mayonnaise as the dressing). give it a try and tell me i’m wrong for loving it.
makes an amount of salad fit for the russian army. or 4 or 5 really hungry people.
goes excellent with:
vodka. it is russian food, you shouldn’t have to think very hard on this one.
black bread. yeah, the salad has a lot of carbohydrates, but russian black bread provides a distinctly nutty and bitter flavor to any meal that cannot be rivaled. if you want to be super russian, don’t slice the loaf. just tear of large chunks at a time.
pelmeni. russian meat dumplings could be one of the most rib-stickingest foods known to mankind, and there is nothing quite like sitting down after a long day of making dumplings by hand, cooking up a big hot bowl for yourself (swimming in chicken soup and sour cream, of course). and you would be remiss at that moment not to reach for huge bowl of salat olivier and a shotglass filled with vodka.