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Russian salad (Olivier salad)

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Russian salad or Salade russe, also known as Salade Olivier (Салат Оливье in Russian), is a salad composed of diced potato, vegetables and sometimes meats bound in mayonnaise.

Left: Olivier salad.

The original version of the salad was invented in the 1860s by Lucien Olivier, the chef of the Hermitage restaurant, one of Moscow's most celebrated restaurants. Olivier's salad quickly became immensely popular with Hermitage regulars, and became the restaurant's signature dish.

One of the first printed recipes for the Olivier salad, by Aleksandrova, appearing in 1894, called for half a hazel grouse, two potatoes, one small cucumber (or a large cornichon), 3-4 lettuce leaves, 3 large crawfish tails, 1/4 cup cubed aspic, 1 teaspoon of capers and 3-5 olives and 1 1/2 tablespoon provencal dressing (mayonnaise).

The mid-20th century restaurant version involved not just vegetables, but also pickled tongue, sausage, lobster meat, truffles, etc. garnished with capers, anchovy filets, etc. Some versions mold it in aspic. In modern usage, it is usually boiled diced vegetables bound in mayonnaise.

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As inevitably happens with gourmet recipes which become popularized, those of the salad's ingredients that were rare, expensive, seasonal, or difficult to prepare were gradually replaced with cheaper and more readily available foods.

Left: A homemade Russian Salad containing carrots, ham, onions, pickled gherkins, eggs, sweet corn, cucumber, peas, potato and mayonnaise.

Today's popular version of "Salade Olivier" -- containing boiled potatoes, dill pickles, peas, eggs, carrots, and boiled beef/chicken or bologna, dressed with mayonnaise -- only faintly resembles Olivier's original creation. This version was a staple of any Soviet Russian holiday dinner, especially of a New Year dinner, due to availability of components in winter. Even though more exotic foods are widely available in Russia now, its popularity has hardly diminished: this salad was and maybe still is the most traditional dish for the home New Year celebration for Russian people.

Russian influence has influenced the popularity of the salad in Bulgaria to the point where it is called ruska salad (руска салата) which literally means "Russian salad," and in Greece, where you can find "Russian Salad" on almost any restaurant's menu. The Bulgarian version of the salad usually consists of potatoes, carrots, peas, pickles and some sort of salami or ham. The Greek version usually contains no meat. It is also very popular in Iran, where chicken is usually added to the recipe.

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Because of a French influence on Spanish cuisine, it is also widely consumed in Spain (where it is called ensaladilla rusa and is popular as a Summer meal) where it typically consists of carrots, canned tuna, eggs, peas, roast red pepper strips, green olives, potato and mayonnaise.

Left: Ensaladilla rusa, or russian salad, as tapas, served on a plate.



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