The Russian “Olivier” Salad

April 5, 2010

in Recipes, Russian & Azerbaijani, Salads & Sides

Behold the power and the glory of the Russian cold appetizer spread (commonly served to open a festive holiday meal, alongside an array of other delicacies): the “Olivier” salad! So called after a French chef at a Moscow restaurant who allegedly invented it, this all-time classic never fails to please the Russian heart. The salad is also popular in Bulgaria, where, if you remember, I spent four years going to college, and where it is known as russka salata,  or “the Russian salad.” Fair enough.

If you take a closer look at Russian dishes, this one in particular, you realize that they frequently involve multiple ingredients cut into small (quite fine, really) pieces. I believe this has something to do with keeping women busy and out of trouble – I can think of no other reasonable explanation. Anyway, because I am a liberated, modern woman, I don’t make this dish a lot – just once every few years. Jacob’s excited when I do though.

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Boil a few potatoes, carrots, and eggs (or, to be precise, lots of potatoes, a few carrots, and a couple of eggs).

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Peel everything…

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Now pull out a few pickles. We’re going to dice everything pretty small.

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In case of the eggs, the world is lucky to be armed with this clever little device. Have you seen this before? The egg slicer?

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It’s really great. Just put in the egg…

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Bring the top part down onto the bottom part, and voila! The egg’s been sliced!

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Now re-orient your egg 90 degrees, and let the egg slicer cut it crosswise.

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Like this. My eggs were kind of on the soft side, which is much softer than they should have been. I used the method my mother-in-law used for the Easter eggs – brought them to a boil, turned off the heat, and let them sit in the hot water. While this does indeed produce a tenderer egg, it’s not the best option for this salad. Normally I just let the eggs boil for 5 min.

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Place your chopped eggs in a large bowl, and add the rest of the vegetables, also diced pretty fine. Although if you look at this picture, you’ll see that it’s far from pretty fine. It’s far from any kind of “fine.” But that’s the matter of your personal level of perfectionism. Mine is not very high. Not very high at all.

Two things:

1) The potato chunks in this picture look larger than they actually are because, even after being cut, the potato slices are still sort of “glued” together by potato starch. But don’t you worry! They will happily separate after you add the dressing (see the final picture – no slices!)

2) The said starch will also make the potatoes a little harder to slice/dice – dip your knife in cold water frequently as you cut to make it glide smoothly without sticking.

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Next we’re gonna need these three things – some sour cream, some mayo, and a can of green sweet peas. The canned peas are to me a subject of a great nostalgia, especially since, for my particular family, it was always either unavailable or unaffordable. Had to come all the way to America to partake of it freely. To partake of anything freely, really.

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Next, you need to drain your peas. I like to do it by cutting the can open partway and using the resulting opening to pour out the liquid.

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I then open the can all the way, and…

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Dump the whole thing into my salad. To which I also add a generous pile of finely chopped parsley (dill is also commonly used, but I didn’t have any on hand)…

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And chives (or scallions, as I did in the Old Country, but here I have my own little chive patch).

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Now for the dressing – I use equal parts sour cream and mayo, along with some salt, pepper, and a dash or two of red-wine (or champagne or white wine) vinegar (not shown), just to add an extra bite.

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Now stir everything together, and you’re done! This is best when chilled in the fridge overnight.

The Russian “Olivier” Salad

  • several potatoes
  • several carrots (fewer than potatoes)
  • a couple of eggs
  • 3-4 pickles
  • 1 can sweet green peas (you MUST use the canned ones to re-create the air of Soviet nostalgia)
  • sour cream
  • mayo
  • a dash of wine vinegar
  • chopped parsley (and/or dill) and chives (or scallions)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Boil the vegetables until fork-tender and hard-boil the eggs. Let the eggs and the vegetables cool completely. Chop everything finely and place into a large bow. Chop the pickles and add them to a bowl as well, along with the chopped parsley and chives/scallions. Add the drained peas. Add a generous dollop each of mayo and sour cream, a dash of vinegar, salt, and pepper, and stir gently until everything is completely incorporated. The salad tastes best the next day.

Variations: People often add a chopped apple and some sort of diced sandwich/cold meat, such as cooked chicken, to this salad. I usually don’t, since I find the salad to be plenty rich as it is, but consider experimenting.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jacquelyn April 5, 2010 at 5:05 pm

This salad looks good! Are the pickles – dill or sweet?
I love my egg slicer! and it works great on olives too!

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2 Sofya April 5, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Dill pickles, usually.

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3 Flyingroo April 5, 2010 at 11:47 pm

My goodness, you forgot bologna! I mean if “you MUST use the canned ones to re-create the air of Soviet nostalgia” then you MUST use bologna! :-D

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4 Sofya April 6, 2010 at 8:22 am

I didn’t forget. I remember a little too well to include it in my salad. I mean there’s a reason we are not in Kansas anymore, right?

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5 Micah April 6, 2010 at 9:26 am

You forgot beets!!

And about pickles, sweet vs. dill: sweet pickles will absolutely DESTROY this salad! Dill is a prominent flavor in Russian food and it is a very important part of this salad.

I often make this without eggs (vegan version) and it satisfies my Russian husband just as much as the regular.

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6 Sofya April 6, 2010 at 9:39 am

While I don’t think beets wouldn’t taste good here, I never once in my life saw anyone use beets in Olivier, and that’s with being from the former USSR, the homeland of the Russian salad.

As far as this kind of salads go, beets go into “vinegret” – a salad made with beans, beets, potatoes, and I don’t remember what else (that one I barely made), and the so-called “herring in a fur coat” – or “seledka pod shuboy,” which does indeed feature beets prominently. But not olivier.

I should make the “fur coat” salad once for this blog. It’s a good one.

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7 Flyingroo April 6, 2010 at 11:11 am

Sofya

That would be “Herring Under Fur Coat” – made with diced salted herring and covered with grated potatoes, carrot and beets, chopped onion, and mayo, plus grated egg on top (hence the “fur”)… the color is to say the least “flashing”! teehee

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8 Sofya April 6, 2010 at 11:55 am

“IN a fur coat” sounds a lot more like English to me. I do confuse “fir” and “fur” though a lot, so thanks for pointing that out!

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9 jean luc May 18, 2010 at 8:39 pm

great blog, just a note I am from a french-polish background and we indeed use canned red beets in making a version of this ‘salad russe’. everyone loves it! give it a try next time, it couldn’t hurt.

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10 Sofya May 19, 2010 at 12:21 am

Actually, there’s a salad that the Russians make (mentioned in one of the comments), called herring in a fur coat, and it has pretty much the same stuff minus eggs (or not? can’t remember anymore!) and peas and plus onions, herring and beets. Only the layers are grated I think, the beets are anyway. You know I should make that for one of the future posts.

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11 Jacquelyn April 6, 2010 at 10:38 am

Thank you, Sofya & Micah – for the clarification about dill pickles. I am totally about dill pickles, my husband on the other hand is all about bread & butter pickles. I personally don’t think a salad like this would fair well with a sweet pickle.

About bologna…is it really made that way in Russia? I don’t include bologna as an edible food – whether it’s beef, turkey, pork or a combination of all the above meats.

Thank you so much for sharing these lovely recipes & pictures, Sofya. I am enjoying your blog!

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12 Sofya April 6, 2010 at 10:48 am

Thanks, Jacquelyn!

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13 IT February 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Jacquelyn, you can try substituting bologna with cubed deli black forest ham instead, and it works well with fresh peas instead of canned. It makes an interesting version of this salad as well.

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14 Coco Bean April 6, 2010 at 2:34 pm

MMMM! There is a restaurant down the street from me that serves this salad with everything! I love it so much, I’m going to have to try to make it now!

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15 Sofya April 6, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Yes, it’s a classic! I don’t know any Russian who doesn’t love it (maybe they exist, but I just don’t know any).

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16 kel April 6, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Can you pass me a slice of pumpernickel please? This looks amazing!!

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17 Irina April 7, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I love this salad! Whenever a new American acquaintance comes over for dinner for the first time, I always make Olivier and it is always a hit. To comment on the bologna issue, I don’t think that bologna is the only meat option for this salad. I’ve had this salad with bologna, but I’ve also eaten versions made with cut-up hot dogs, chopped cooked beef, or chopped cooked chicken. My mom and grandmother always used chopped cooked beef; here in the US, my mom has switched to chopped cooked chicken. I would say that as long as some kind of meat or meat product is included, you are staying true to the “traditional” recipe – although I always skip the meat because I am a vegetarian.

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18 Sofya April 7, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Personally, I find the meat to be too rich of an addition to this salad, plus, I am not attached to traditions in general.

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19 Alina April 9, 2010 at 7:28 am

“I believe this has something to do with keeping women busy and out of trouble” – hehehe this might be the reason :) Oh I have an egg slicer too but for some reason my eggs always fall apart during the process of slicing :)

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20 Sofya April 9, 2010 at 7:47 am

They kinda do that! But then again, I don’t notice that in the salad.

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21 Natalia September 16, 2010 at 8:33 am

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this salad, we ate it growing up all the time, and now as an adult I am finally ready to recreate it! So exciting!
My Mom and Aunts, also used to make another salad, I don’t recall what it was called, but what I remember is “Rainbow Salad”… It was layers of cooked, shredded potato, cooked, shredded carrot, egg and on top was a layer of beets mixed with a sour cream like dressing…Do you or anyone else have a recipe for this? It was my absolute favourite!

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22 Sofya September 16, 2010 at 9:00 am

Looks like you got a recipe for that rainbow salad right there! I’ve had that too. It’s a bit like shuba (herring in fur coat), sans herring.

I’ll make up a recipe for you right now:

3 potatoes
4 eggs
3 carrots
2 beets

Boil all the vegetables (eggs take less time) – I would cook beets in a separate pot – they take the longest and color everything. Let cool, peel, and grate (maybe cube the potatoes finely) all the veggies when cold. Cut the eggs finely. I would also add a finely cut red onion. Then layer everything in a casserole dish (pyrex, etc), slather the top with dressing, cover w. saran, and leave for a day in the fridge to soak/permeate. I’d use the same dressing as for Russian salad. I would slather the potato layer w. the dressing too.

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23 Bailey February 22, 2012 at 8:34 pm

I loved this salad when I was living in Azerbaijan. In the summer, my host mom used cucumber and apples instead of pickes.

She also made the rainbow salad, but put parsley and pomegranate on top.

All this talk of salads makes me think of weddings because you got the whole selection all at once.

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24 Sofya February 22, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Any celebration really, except novruz which has its own set of dishes.

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25 Marsha Smith September 22, 2013 at 8:55 am

Hi Sofya: This comes really close to American potato salad. The potatoes, eggs and pickles. Some folks add celery, some do not. I personally do not like pickles of ANY kind, but some cooks add their own touches.

I do really enjoy your blog!!! I have tried your version of homemade yogurt and it came out perfect the very first time. My brother is bringing me another gallon of milk today and I’m going to make some more. He and I split the results. He also said it was extremely good and he has made more homemade than I have.

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