A new year and Russian Salad

Happy new year, you guys! Hope everyone had a wonderful couple of weeks.

Last year slipped away quickly from me at the end there. There was some traveling for work and wrapping up of projects. And then, when I was ready to find relaxation, the universe decided I wasn’t quite ready yet. I got hit by a nasty bug between Xmas and the new year that was quite tenacious in its hold on me. It was like nothing I’ve seen before and with my propensity for colds and coughs, that’s saying something. As I lay under my inadequately warm comforter, I imagined pumpkin bread pudding and strengthening stews to make when I got better, things you would find useful in this winter weather. But when I did get better, my stove decided to go on the fritz.

I can’t say the new year has started in the best possible fashion for me.

There are only two good things that came out of my stove throwing a tantrum. One is that I got to use ‘on the fritz’, a phrase that make me think of malfunctioning wires releasing sparks and makes me happy all out of proportion. The other is, I get to tell you about this salad.

One story about this salad is that it was developed in Russia by a restaurant chef who was basically robbing the owner blind. Well, they don’t say that exactly, but the story is tantamount to the same thing. It is said they gave him a kitchen allowance for supplies and told him that he could keep what was left at the end of the month. So he came up with this salad that is rich in taste but doesn’t need a lot of ingredients, thereby being able to pocket more of the money. There’s another story that says this chef developed the salad for his restaurant and it was a huge hit. It consisted of expensive ingredients like seafood and good cuts of meat and its recipe was a closely guarded secret. Then, one of the chef’s employees stole the recipe, became the chef at a competing restaurant and started serving a version of this salad, albeit with less expensive ingredients. It is said the exact original recipe died with its creator but copycat versions of the salad are still known as Salad Olivier in his honour. In India, we knew it simply as Russian Salad.


I got to know this salad well through that wonderful medium of introduction we had to western food when I was growing up, the Continental Buffet. No matter what was in the spread, and they were some fancy spreads, it was this simple dish I’d serve on to my plate first. I hear there are people in this world who hate mayonnaise. I am their polar opposite. I love the stuff. Can’t have enough. This salad, with all of the ingredients imparting their flavour to the mayonnaise; it was my favourite thing at those buffet tables. I haven’t eaten it once in the twelve years I have lived here on the other side of the world, remembering it sporadically but never making it.

On New Year’s morning, I found myself fairly low, not at all how one should feel on New Year morning. My holiday break had been wasted away in bed. Several holiday gatherings I had planned got postponed first because of me, and then cancelled because of my stove. I was a convalescent and my stove had died. The thought of take-out on the first day in the New Year made my heart miserable and my stomach protest. That is when I recalled this dish of boiled things brought together with some mayo and cream. A little bit of this could make both me and my stomach happy. And also, I could bypass the stove entirely.

So I peeled and chopped some potatoes and carrots into large chunks and stuck them in the microwave to boil in some water. When those were cooked, I boiled some peas and corn. Then I got to the risky part. The only protein I had in the house was egg, but I had never boiled those in a microwave before. I checked the Internet and found that this could really go wrong. So I prayed a little, hoped I was done with bad luck for the time being and then used this procedure to microwave-boil the eggs. I only boiled the thing for six minutes, but it worked. A bit of celery, some apple, the quick mayo and cream dressing and we were lunching like lords. Apparently, it’s good luck to eat this on the first day of the year. Nothing else is broken and no one else is sick. In my book, that is good luck indeed!

I can’t quote a source for this recipe because there isn’t one. Yet I can’t say this is an original recipe, because clearly it isn’t that either. I turned to the internet and looked up what I could find. The thing is, in India with our strong vegetarian leanings, the salad has adapted to suit its environs. I never remember seeing eggs or chicken in here, though I remember pineapple and grapes. They starred on their own in a similarly dressed chicken salad or egg salad. There is no way pork or beef or sausage would be found in such a dish where its presence would be hidden in the other ingredients and dressing. A restaurant could go out of business on rookie mistakes like that.

At best I can say there are elements of what I read into this recipe, the rest is what ingredients I had at home, vague old memories and taste. We ate it sandwiched in sliced bread. You can eat it in rolls or you can eat it by itself. It definitely tastes better in a few hours or the next day when the flavours have mingled and developed. In India, everything was cut in a small dice, so that’s what I did. This makes all the ingredients similar in size to the peas. You can keep the potatoes and carrots cut in larger sizes if you like. If you have leftovers, they can be whizzed in the food processor. This makes a mighty fine dip.

It’s not  measured recipe. You need to have enough dressing to coat all the ingredients, but nowhere is it said that you can’t overdo the dressing if you want to. Go with what you feel is best. Of course, if you have a working stove, boil everything on it. Boiling eggs in the microwave felt like some odd form of Russian Roulette; such a feeling of imminent disaster! I don’t advocate it. I wish I had an electric kettle at such times. But at any rate, if you, like me, find yourself backed into a corner, know that this is a careful option. You can use beets here or sausage or boiled chicken. If you use raw onion, be sure to not let the salad last beyond a day. I definitely wouldn’t use tomatoes in this.

There is something inherently pleasant and comforting about this salad that will have you reaching for it again and again, even if flashier options may abound.

Russian Salad (aka Salad Olivier)
Makes several servings depending on how you eat it.

Eggs – 3
Carrots – 2, peeled
Potatoes – 2 medium, peeled
Frozen Peas – 1/2 cup
Frozen corn – 1/2 cup
Celery – 1/2 stalk
Apple – 1
Mayonnaise – 1/2 cup
Cream – 1/2 cup
Thyme – 1/2 tsp
Hot sauce – 1/4 tsp
Worcestershire sauce – 1/4 tsp
Apple cider vinegar – 1/2 tsp
Sugar – a pinch
Kosher or table Salt and pepper to taste
Milk – only enough to thin it out dressing if necessary

– Boil all the vegetables. The carrots and potatoes can be cut into large chunks large and boiled together, then chop into a smaller dice. The peas and corn can be boiled together.
– Boil the eggs. Peel them and then chop small, as you would for egg salad.
– Chop the celery as fine as you can. Chop the apple into small dice.
– Throw all the veggies, fruit and egg into a large bowl. Season well with kosher salt and pepper
– In another bowl, mix the cream and milk together. Add the thyme, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and vinegar. Balance with a bit of sugar. Stir everything together to mix. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Thin out with some milk if the consistency is too thick. The dressing should be pourable but not runny.
– Pour as much dressing on to the veggies and egg as you deem necessary, enough to coat all the ingredients in the very minimum. Mix to incorporate. Any remaining dressing can stay in the fridge for a week or so.

Serve by itself or sandwiched in some bread.

**And here is the winner of the Calvin and Hobbes giveaway. Sorry it took me so long to get to it.
And the winner is, number one.

Screen shot 2013-01-12 at 6.44.14 PM

Congrats to Nupur! I’ll contact you shortly for your address.

 

 

8 comments

  1. Priti

    Happy New Year! I was really missing your first post for the new year, was hoping all is well. Your Russian salad looks great! It’s one of those things that I love but never make it at home, I think I am going to serve this Russian Salad on top of toasted mini slices of bread like a bruschetta as an appetizer next time I have friends over. What do you think?

    And I am so happy that Nupur won the giveaway! 🙂

    • Sharmila

      Happy New Year to you Priti! Thank you for thinking of me and what a lovely shoutout to Nupur.
      I think a bruschetta-type appetizer is a great idea. It would be great on some crusty, toasted sliced baguette. If you were going to keep them out for a while, you could line the bread with some greens so it won’t get soggy. You could sprinkle on some paprika. Would make for a very pretty and tasty appetizer platter.

  2. Stacy

    So sorry to hear you were sick! I was as well; my days confined to bed began after the new year and are just wrapping up now. Not fun at all. And your stove, too! But it seems all has been righted for you now. Wishing you the very best for 2013, even if the goodness starts mid-January. 😉

    • Sharmila

      Happy new year Stacy! Sorry to hear you were sick too. Glad to hear you feel better. Yes, it’s been a rough start but it is better now. Thanks so much for your good wishes.

  3. Vijitha Shyam

    Happy New Year to you! This is my first time here and I am so glad to have stumbled upon your blog. I am sorry that you were sick. Hope you are feeling better now.

    Comforting salad for sure!

    • Sharmila

      Hello Vijitha, welcome here. Thanks so much for stopping to say hello! I’m better now. Yes, there is a lot of pleasing comfort in the salad.

  4. Nupur

    Oh man this salad brings back some happy memories- my mother used to make it (including making the mayo because it was not available in stores in India at the time).

    I hope both you and your stove are in good health now.

    And yay for winning 🙂