Friday 18 November 2011

Vinegret (a cold Russian salad)

In the good old days of the Soviet regime (meant ironically) there were three salads that routinely appeared on the Russian tables whenever there was a cause for celebration - a New Year's eve, the International Women's Day, a birthday or any other occasion - an Olivie salad (it is known in the West as the Russian salad, but is actually much nicer), a "seledka pod shuboi" (lit. a herring in the fur coat) and a Vinegret.
There are numerous versions of this cold salad, and purists would probably swear at me for "ruining" a classic recipe, but I prepare it the way I was taught, and I discussed with my Mum all the particulars, trying to refresh it in my memory.

1 big beetroot
2-3 medium carrots (I used the purple carrots, but the standard salad would use orange-coloured ones)
2 medium potatoes
200g sauerkraut
1-2 pickled cucumbers
1 shallot
1 medium apple (like Gala, quite sweet)
3 tbsp of peas (either cooked from fresh or tinned)
sunflower oil (the best for this recipe, do not use the olive oil)
spring onions (optional)

1. Cook a beetroot either in a pan of boiling water until done, or bake in the oven wrapped in foil (there is a lot of arguments going on on the Russian forums as to which way is the "authentic" one, choose one that works for you)
2. Cook carrots and potatoes.
3. Chop the beets, and place in a bowl. Chop the carrots and potatoes. Place all the ingredients in separate bowls.
4. Finely chop the shallot, apple, cucumber. Chop the sauerkraut too.
5.You can add all the ingredients in one big bowl, but beware that the beetroot will colour everything else in the same-ish colour). If you add the oil to each ingredient before mixing them all together, then you will have a multi-coloured salad or at least different hue of pink from pale to dark ruby colour.
6. Once you mixed all the ingredients, taste your salad and add salt if wanted.

You can experiment and add a bit of chopped dill, or half a teaspoon of mustard, 1 teaspoon of sugar. Some cooks add a dash of red wine vinegar. Or a bit of black pepper.

As I was talking to my Mum on the phone about this recipe, she told me that when she was in the boarding school (early 1950s), they used to celebrate all pupils' birthdays four times a year, one big celebration per season. Whenever a birthday feast was planned, their Jewish chef asked the children if they wanted a Russian vinegret or a Jewish one. Most of the times, his own recipe won. He would start making the salad by soaking white beans (haricot or navy) in cold water in a big bowl. Beans were then cooked and added to the salad ingredients. He also added the finely chopped salted herring to his Vinegret, and everyone loved it.

This salad is at its best the next day after you prepare it.
The purists claim you have to eat it with a shot of vodka. As I don't drink vodka, don't take my word for it, try yourselves.
Talking of vodka and totally digressing, there was a salesman doing the rounds in the neighbourhood, selling the kitchenware. I took pity on him and paid five pounds for the oven mitt (and I could find better quality in the pound shop). He asked me where I am from. I said: from Russia. To which he replied: You must be drinking lots of vodka.
Well, thank you, do I look like Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer? I just bought something from you and you insult me in my own home. Needless to say, I was not amused. Perhaps amused a bit. Just.


  1. I honestly can actually see me eating this one.

    As for the comment about vodka - people and their stereotypes eh?!

  2. I spent a couple winters in Russia, and remember this salad well. One time was in the cafe at Gastina dvor and another time at my wife's aunt's house for some obscure holiday- maybe soldier's or women's day.