Sunday, 17 July 2016

Retro recipe: Russian salad

By: Mrs Robot

Growing up, I didn't know a single kid who liked salad, because if you were British, working class and growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s, salad meant lettuce, cucumber and tomato, maybe radishes if you were lucky, all sitting sliced and separate on a plate. As for dressing, salad cream was your lot. This is, of course, a generalisation. Mr Robot's mum was working class but adventurous. He still remembers the cold baked beans she once served up as part of a salad. However, my point remains: nobody liked salad. They were, like the boiled veg served up in winter, the things that padded out your actual food, which was potatoes and meat.

Now I am in my forties, and somewhat fat, and get a weekly organic vegbox, all of which is making me realise one thing: I need to eat more salad. I've learned to enjoy it more over the years anyhow, but over the next few months I'm going to make a conscious effort to be more adventurous with my salads and get more pleasure out of that weekly vegbox. I've decided to kick off with a classic, Russian Salad.

I first encountered Russian salad as ensaladilla Rusa in Spain, served as a tapa. It seemed pretty much to be potato salad with some tuna in. After a bit of googling, I've learned that Russian salad started out as salat Olivier, a very posh salad made in 19th-century Russia by one Monsieur Olivier, which has undergone all sorts of changes over the years, becoming a staple celebration dish in Russia. Nowadays it's pretty much a 'shepherd's pie recipe', by which I mean everyone has their own version and they're all definitely different while being recognisably the same thing.

I based my salad on the recipe in 1080 Recipes, a classic Spanish cookbook. (Phaedon publishes a translated version.) That recipe contains simply peas, carrots and potatoes in mayonnaise. I included a few pods of broad beans in mine, because we've been getting loads in the vegbox lately, and some tuna, because I've only ever had ensaladilla Rusa with tuna in and it would feel wrong without it. I left the veg fairly chunky, and didn't over-flake the tuna, and the result was absolutely delicious. 1080 Recipes suggests putting prawns in, which would also be delicious. This looks like a perfect salad to make in winter too. Is there anything not to like about it? No wonder it's become a classic, in its many forms.


  1. First: let us ALL agree that we are NOT to speak of Mim ( a dear, dear friend of mine) as "fat" in a any way. Mim is supremely curvaceous and femininely figured. :)
    Now, onto salad-days :)
    To tell you the truth, if you are planning to come to Serbia, I'm sure you'll get the impression that THIS salad is our national dish. Not a single gathering can pass without a bowl full of this salad; with a home-made mayonnaise (of course).
    Over here, we even have "vegetable cubing" devices... I'll try to post you a link, so that you can see. This just tells you how much we're liking this creamy delight.
    Here's the look of it:
    ...yeah, we're that mad. :)

    Thank you for a delightful reminder.

    1. Heh, we have devices like that in the UK,. but they're mostly used for cutting potatoes up to make chips!

      I tried making my own mayonnaise but I'm rubbish at it; mine came out of a jar.

  2. I have 1080 Recipes sitting unloved in my bookcase, so I took it down to look up the recipe. It is much different from the Ukrainian version we make (with bologna and chopped up sweet pickles, and extra pickle juice)but I do like the idea of adding a tart apple to it. I guess everyone wishes to lay claim to a delicious idea.

    And, what Maja said-you're not fat.

    I really ought to use 1080 Recipes more often-I paid a whopping three dollars for it at a used book sale. You could get a workout just toting the thing along on a walk.

    1. I think the meat and pickles are more traditional. The Spanish variant isn't much like the original salat olivier, though I do like it.

      Yeah, 1080 Recipes is a beast of a book. I really like it because it's so different to what people outside Spain think of as 'Spanish food'.

  3. That's interesting. "Russian Salad" is served here in Nepal at tourist restaurants too. It seems to be diced boiled potatoes, green peas, and chopped hard boiled eggs tossed in a pinkish dressing consisting of a lot of mayo mixed with a little tomato ketchup. I wonder who taught that to the Nepalis?

    Tuna or prawns sounds delicious in that recipe!

    1. I honestly have no idea how it would have got there! Via the Stans, perhaps? The Russians were in Afghanistan a long time; perhaps they brought the dish with them and it filtered through to Pakistan and on to Nepal. It seems like a dish that could be made compliant with a lot of dietary requirements - kosher version, halal version - so would travel well.