Recipe: Russian Potato Salad | Olivier Salad

Winter doesn’t just bite in Russia. It eats you alive.

In the far east of this great nation, temperatures can actually drop to -95F. In the west, things are nearly so dire – winter might only drop to -22F (!), with occasional warm spurts in past years reaching 50F.

50F isn’t so bad. But the rest? Yikes.

Kul Sharif mosque. Photo by Давид гаспарян.

By the time New Year’s Eve comes, Russians are ready to break up the monotony with a blast of soul-warming comfort food. Major.

Everyone tells me New Year’s Eve in Russia wouldn’t be complete without a scoop of Olivier Salad (and the same goes for weddings, Christmas, and just about any other festive occasion). It’s the “go to.”

And by New Year’s Eve, I mean both of them.

There’s the classic December 31/January 1 New Year’s Eve. Then, two weeks later is round two, a.k.a. “Old New Year’s Eve” on January 14th, which hails from the Orthodox calendar.

P.S. Between the two? Russian Christmas falls on January 6th.

Don’t think of it as complicated. Think of it as bonus Russian fun.

P.P.S. January 6 is also a time one could choose to go swimming, if one wanted to extend the festivities past the frozen surface.

Epiphany bathing in Kazan. Photo by Maksim Bogodvid.

Brrr.

The fact that this salad grips so tightly onto Russian hearts and holidays is amazing. After all, the potato has only been actively cultivated there since the mid-19th century.

Of course, I’m a fan of anything potato. And why not? From what I can tell, potato salad is an epic world traveler. These last couple of years I’ve found versions everywhere, from the Dutch Potato Salad with apples, New Zealand’s version with bacon and sweet potatoes, and the Pacific version with bananas and sweet potatoes. Today’s mega Russian version is loaded up with carrots, eggs, peas, pickles, and ham.

Doesn’t that cover the four food groups? This calls for a squiggly straw.

By the way, I read that some Russians like to call Olivier Salad a “Party Pillow” … a.k.a. a sweet, soft spot for those who can’t hold their liquor. Good to know.  Good to know.

Makes about a gallon (serves 12+)

Ingredients:

4 yukon gold potatoes, boiled, peeled, then cubed (about 2 lbs)
3 large carrots, boiled, peeled, then cubed
4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 can peas (about 2 cups)
3 dill pickles, diced
1 lb diced ham or chicken
mayonnaise, to taste (probably need 1 – 1 1/2 cups)
salt & pepper

Method:

Let’s find a sunny, snowy corner of Russia for our kitchen.  Let the glow and crunching snow inspire.

Sunset in Kuznetsk Alatau, Russia. Photo by Dmitry A. Mottl.

While breathing in the cool shimmer, cook all of the ingredients until just tender (if they get overdone they won’t hold their shape)

- Hard boil the eggs (bring to a boil, remove from heat and cover for 17 minutes)
- Boil the potatoes (boil 20-25 minutes, or until an inserted knife slides in easily)
- large carrots (boil about 10-15 minutes)

Peel everything, then dice into neat little cubes.

Toss with a rainbow of peas, pickles, ham, salt, and pepper.

Mix with a couple of happy scoops of mayo. P.S.The salad keeps best without mayo, so only add mayo to the bit you’ll be eating.

Delicious.

Especially those bits of ham.

Enjoy in the glow of Russian winter.

Kazan Cathedral, photo by Ivan Smelov.

Shimmer on, my friends. Shimmer on.

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Comments

  1. When you look at the numbers it sounds ridiculously cold… But you really do get used to it! Well, to a certain point… (Yes, even if you’re from ok) I lived there for two and a half years and I distinctly remember walking to a New Years party unzipping my jacket and taking off my scarf because it was “only” 0 degrees, not a neg number! I also remember window shopping when it was -25 eating an ice cream cone, delighted that it didn’t melt and I could take my time!

    I went to many many parties and dinners where i ate a lot of this “salad”. One of the safe dishes i knew I would like. Thanks for bringing back the memories! I look forward to making this!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      I love the visual of you eating an ice cream cone in -25 … so much fun! Really drives your point home that we do acclimate… I’ll definitely share this with Keith since we’ve been talking about living somewhere else for a while. It’d be great if he’d consider more northern climes. :)

  2. I’m loving these posts on Russia so much. It’s still hovering in the mid to high 80s here in Austin, TX, and I wish so much it was cold and brisk. Thanks for taking us on mini travel in our imaginations!

  3. Yes I wrote about the literature… but I forgot the music!

    http://www.myspace.com/0/music-player?songid=34479001

    Lovely post as always.

  4. …what is that funny expression on Ava’s little face,,..too funny..she is a girl of many hats…

  5. January 6!!!…your grandmother Dorothea’s Birthday…little christmas…

  6. That epiphany bathing would sure create an epiphany

  7. Love this post!
    It was -40 when I was in Moscow a few years ago. So so cold!
    You got the recipe exactly right. Oliveyeh is my favorite of all Russian food!

  8. I make a potato salad very similar to this one, minus the peas and carrots and add celery & bell pepper… Yummy indeed. Great Post!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] recently read Sasha’s recipe for Russian Potato Salad (or Olivier Salad) over at Global Table Adventure, I thought that it would be fitting for me to make [...]

  2. [...] 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. [...]

  3. [...] There’s the best potato salad you’ve ever had, Olivier Salad, including ham, carrots, peas, gherkins, and hard-boiled eggs. Far from bland, this is a meal in one! (Recipe) [...]

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