Life and Other Miracles

Where we go from here …

To Russia with Love

on February 25, 2013

So, in case you haven’t noticed, we’ve approached the countries on this culinary tour of the world by population. Technically, after Brazil comes Bangladesh and then Nigeria, but I just wasn’t feeling either of those cuisines, so we skipped ahead to Russia (don’t worry we’ll go back).

I had this thought that after the heaviness of Brazil (and not to mention a weekend that included Mexican food twice, potato skins, AND pizza) that something light would be nice. So I decided to make a couple of salads. Good thought, huh?

Okay, but here is the thing, Russian salads are not light. They all seem to include mayonnaise. Which, to be honest, I love mayonnaise, but it doesn’t fall into the “light” category. Still, I was committed. And with four potatoes sitting on the counter at home, I decided to make the Russian version of potato salad, also called Salad Olivier. According to Mark Bittman, who has a recipe for this salad in his book, The Best Recipes in the World, the story is that the salad was named for a French chef who served this salad in his restaurant in Moscow. Which does make sense, since it is reminiscent of a Salad Nicoise, although without the tuna or olives (but has pickles, which lends the same sort of saltiness).

Coincidentally, Sasha over at Global Table Adventure made Salad Olivier for her Russian table. Her photos are beautiful. Give it a look and check out her recipe.

In addition to the Salad Olivier, I also made a beet salad. Because, face it, when you think of Russia, you probably think of beets (and also vodka … and gulags … and bread lines …). I chose the recipe I did basically because this was how the website described it:

“A very good appetizer for any occasions. Beet is very useful for digestions and contains a lot of trace elements necessary for a man.”

I don’t know exactly what that means, but I don’t care. Anyway, the recipe is here.

To start with, Quinn and I took a trip to the grocery store, where buying appropriately sliced ham proved to be our only challenge (the lady at Safeway and I had very different definitions of the word “thick.”) The great thing about both of these recipes is that they really don’t require any unusual ingredients – I already had half in my pantry.

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Both recipes required boiling of the main ingredients, which took about 40 minutes total (heating the water plus cooking time). Both instructed to boil the root vegetables whole before peeling and dicing, which makes sense for the beets, but was a little counterintuitive for the potatoes and carrots. I suppose boiling with the skins on retains the nutrients, but it makes peeling them a pain in the ass.

For the Salad Olivier, once everything that needed to be boiled was boiled (or cooked in my magical egg cooker – BEST WEDDING GIFT EVER!) it is pretty straight forward to assemble. Things are peeled and diced and mixed in a bowl with the mayo, peas, ham, and dill pickles. I use the mayo made with olive oil. It tastes exactly the same, but won’t kill you as fast. I eyeballed the amount and probably used less than half of a cup. I did follow the recipe suggestion and mixed only the amount I thought we would eat. Salt and pepper to taste. I then let it chill for about 30 minutes. I could see serving this warm as well (I actually really like warm potato salad) except for the eggs. Warm hard boiled eggs are not my thing. But do what you like.

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So, this flavor combination was actually really good. The pickles, peas, and ham definitely changed the flavor profile from your typical Fourth of July potato salad. However, my potatoes were undercooked, despite passing the tip of the knife test, so this was definitely an fail in execution, if not taste.

The beet salad faired better. After boiling and peeling the beets, I grated them, added some pickles, salt, and then a couple of pressed garlic cloves. STRONG garlic cloves as it turned out. I added maybe two tablespoons of the ubiquitous mayonnaise and chilled it as well (again, I think you could serve it warm, if you were so inclined).

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All in all, I liked both our menu items, but I think serving them together just made for mayonnaise overkill. If I had wanted to put in more time, I probably would have made something meaty or even gone for borscht, but I can’t always be a culinary hero.

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As for Quinn, she had “deconstructed” Salad Olivier. Which is a fancy way of saying that she ate hard boiled egg whites and ham. The girl does not like potatoes.

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