Now this is a childhood favorite of mine! Little did I think about the origins of this delicious salad when it came from my momma’s kitchen; it was always a delicious treat for me, regardless of the name! We call it ensalada rusa, which literally translates into Russian salad – and truth be told the recipe for the dressing itself is called Russian Dressing. However, after some research on my behalf, I discovered this specialty is actually called Olivier salad, or салат Оливье; not to be confused with салат столичный, or Stolichny salad, a vinegret also popular in Russian cuisine.
Whatever its name is, this traditional salad dish in Russian cuisine is also popular in many other European countries, as well as Iran, Israel, Mongolia, and – you guessed it – Latin America! It’s usually made with diced boiled potatoes, carrots, green peas, eggs, onions, and sometimes apples, and salt, pepper, & mustard added to enhance flavor, dressed with mayonnaise.
In Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and other post-Soviet states, the salad has become one of the main dishes on zakuski tables served during New Year’s Eve celebrations. I learned a bit about this particular tradition from my classmate Daíva, a Lithuanian. As we got closer to the holiday break, we shared – or at least tried to – many of our own motherland customs in our German class. She told us about zakuski, a Slavic term for hot & cold hors d’oeuvres, entrées, and snacks, enjoyed either as a course as it is or “intended to follow each shot of vodka”. Historically, a table of zakuski was kept in the houses of the Russian gentry for feeding causal visitors who travelled long distances and whose arrival time was often unpredictable. They eventually became the first course of a festive dinner. Nowadays, they are commonly served at banquets, dinners, parties, & receptions in countries that were formerly part of the Russian Empire, including some post-Soviet states and Poland.
Because of the vast immigration of Italians, Spaniards, and Eastern Europeans to America, the dish is also very popular in my neck of the woods, where it has been reduced to its minimum: minced boiled potatoes, green peas, and abundant mayonnaise-based dressing. An important addition to our “traditional” variety are beets, which add a lovely vibrant color!
For the Dressing
- 1 cup of mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon of grated fresh or drained prepared horseradish
- 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup of ketchup
- 1 teaspoon of grated onion
- 1 tablespoon of minced parsley
Combine all ingredients.
For the Salad
- 5 boiled potatoes, diced
- 2 boiled beets, diced
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, diced
- 1 cup of green peas (optional)
Making sure all your ingredients are at room temperature after being boiled & cooked, combine everything in a large bowl. Add the dressing, enough to coat everything well – and then add some more! Easy peasy, and oh-so-good! Be sure to chill before serving.