I love a good salad. I might even self declare as a salad aficionado. One of my images of heaven involves a Golden Corral and being told to, “have at it”. The Soviets liked their salads as well. While not quite the same as my conception of a salad, the Russian “салат” can encompass a wide of variety of vegetables and means of presentation. I learned to love Russian salads. Salads can be appetizers, heavy appetizers, or they can be so hearty you’ll simply need nothing else to eat for several hours (even though more food may be readily available). The Russian salad is one of the miracles of Soviet cuisine. I’ll say it again, I came to love Russian salads. Perhaps this is because I saw it everywhere. People have the dish at every major social event large and small. I’ve never been to a Russian, Armenian, or Georgian birthday, wedding, house warming, or any kind of important life event where this dish wasn’t served. It is ubiquitous across the former Soviet Union.
To begin with, a coherent Russian salad isn’t lettuce based, it’s potato based. Yet, this is not a potato salad in the way southerners or Americans (in general) conceive of the term. I feel uncomfortable calling it a potato salad. Descriptively speaking, that’s correct. But to a Russian, it’s just, “salat”. Potatoes form the base of the salad (much like lettuce would) to receive, hold, and bind other vegetables in the dish. What the Russians do differently (and their Soviet ancestors-possibly due to rationing) is hold back on the amount of mayonnaise and other sauces which go into this overwhelmingly “vegetable” salad. The flavor and taste of the vegetables are not lost (or drowned) in a sea of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, or vinegar. There are just enough of the seasonings to emphasize the quality and earthiness of the vegetables. The content of the salad; the potatoes, peas, carrots, the things that people grew with their hands in their local gardens and villages are the items people want to taste and appreciate within the dish.
How might one create such a magnificent Soviet salad? You could give this a try.
3 large sized boiled potatoes (peeled, diced, cooked)
2 medium carrots (diced, cooked, peeled)
2 medium dill pickles (sliced)
1 average size cucumber (sliced and diced)
3 hard boiled eggs (chopped)
1 can of peas (drained)
¼ cup scallions
¼ cup dill
12 oz of cooked chopped chicken (up to you whether you want to do a vegetarian version)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of mayo
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1. Put on some Russian music. I recommend Vladimir Vysotsky. He’s like the Russian Don Mclean. You can find him all over You Tube. This will get you in the mood for Russian food.
2. In a large mixing bowl, through mix the ingredients. In a smaller mixing bowl, mix the seasonings/dressing.
3. Toss everything thoroughly. Serve in a nice clear bowl so your guests can see all the ingredients working together.