I had a request for some Russian recipes, so I'm gonna hit you with Salad Olivier over the quiet internet weekend.
The problem with Russian Cuisine and Me is that I don't like dill and I don't like sour cream. These ingredients are prominent in like 90% of Russian dishes. So I end up altering things a lot, because I want to be able to eat it. I'll eat the cow tongue and the pickled herring and dammit, I'll even have the chicken jello if I get salt and some thick bread to put it on, but the smell of dill turns my stomach and unless it's swirled in borscht, sour cream is just foul.
All of this brings me to Olivier, which is a traditional and much beloved Russian/Ukrainian adaptation of a French dish (far more of Russian cooking is French-derived than you'd think, thanks to pre-Revolution courtly connections with France) often served at holidays. And how you feel about it depends on how you feel about potato salad in general.
Here in America, potato salad is an equally traditional dish, served in the summer for some terrible, quasi-demonic reason, since the heat renders this beast even greasier and more inedible than it started out, at picnics and the 4th of July and every barbecue ever. I have begun to suspect that potato salad is an entity unto itself, a pale, globby, tentaclular protrusion from an uncanny shadow universe. No one prepares potato salad, but if you host a barbecue and arrange your picnic tables, grill, loved ones, and beer in the right arcane positions, potato salad will simply appear, glistening white and alone, tasting of interstellar despair.
I do not like potato salad.
I have no idea if it is a thing that exists in the UK--I never came across it while living there, but then, I would hardly seek it out. Here's how you make a potato salad: get some potatoes, skin them, microwave them, chop them up, dump a jar of mayonnaise into them, and you eat that shit and you like it or you'll hurt your mother's feelings.
Salad Olivier is potato salad's inevitable Pokemon-like evolution into its next stage. Potatortle! In addition to the potato and mayonnaise, you add ham, canned peas and carrots, pickles, diced egg, and yes, dill.
I know it is beloved. I know altering the recipe in any way is basically a crime against humanity, God, and Russia. But ever since I turned it down the first time, I have thought: we have got to be able to do better than this. I am foodie, here me roar! Why would I use all these sad ingredients when I might actually be able to make this into something I can eat without shaming myself in front of the possibly-sentient potato salad?
So here's the thing. Don't serve this to your Russian family members or in-laws. You will never hear the end of how it's not "right." Call it Salad Olivrizard if you must. But for those of us who, like me, cannot handle potato salad on any level, consider this version.
Firstly, why the hell would we ever use gross, quivery store-bought mayonnaise? You make mayonnaise by mixing an egg and some olive oil at high speed. You can add anything you want to this in order to flavor it--I really like to add some rich curry paste or hot peppers and honey, but for Olivrizard, I suggest lemon garlic. Start with 1/4 cup of olive oil and one egg, add...well, I really like garlic so I'd probably add half a head, but you most likely want more like 2-4 cloves, plus the juice of a lemon and about a 1/2 teaspoon of zest--salt and pepper to taste. Whip it up in a food processor and when it's blended, drizzle in another 1/3 cup of olive oil slowly until it emulsifies. Now you have mayonnaise (aioli, really) that is not a tasteless 1970s abomination.
For the ham, substitute pancetta, for it is what bacon hopes to be when it grows up. Again I feel more is better, but chop up enough pancetta (thick chunks) to make about a cup, fry it up and put it aside on a paper towel to cool and drain. Give a piece to your cat to propitiate her, watch while she kicks it around for awhile with her huge paws before gnawing on it; laugh at her.
Get FRESH peas at the market, shell, and blanch. (Blanching means dump them into boiling water for 1 minute, remove and dunk in cold water.) Ditto with carrots. Fresh, peel, chop, and blanch.
If you want diced egg, go ahead and boil up 2 and set aside to cool. If you want to be SUPER FANCY, soak the boiled, peeled eggs in a mixture of soy sauce (2 tblsp), orange juice(1/3 cup), two tea bags of whatever tea you prefer, and cinnamon (two sticks) for 3-4 hours. You'll get deep dark brown beautiful eggs lightly flavored with tea and citrus and cinnamon and salt. I have an unfair advantage here with my chickens, because honestly, fresh chicken eggs are kind of unbeatable in that they possess actual chicken flavor. But not everyone has an ornery pack of hens out back.
Now, for pickles, I make my own. I do not suggest that this is necessary. In fact, the pickle part is kind of unnecessary, even in the classic dish, where it's optional. If you want to make malosolne ogurski, though, which means not-much-salt pickles, go ahead and slice up some pickling cukes, boil 1.5 liters of water with 2.5 tablespoons of salt and once the brine is cooled, pour it into glass jars containing cucumbers, 2 crushed cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1/2 teaspoon of fresh horseradish, a sprig of cilantro (or dill or parsley if you hate cilantro), a sprig of thyme, and a couple of white peppercorns. Seal and wait 3 days. Then you have amazing crisp pickles with a totally unique taste, as there's no vinegar in this recipe.
Once you have all these ready, peel and boil about 2 pounds of potatoes, dice them into little cubes once cool--make sure all ingredients are cool or things will curdle and half cook and get gross really fast--and mix everything together in a big bowl along with a whole medium diced red onion. Add salt and black pepper as you will.
This is what happened with me and borscht, too. I figured I could awesome it up some--and my borscht is famous in my social group, but my in-laws assure me it's not "really" borscht. So if you're willing to suffer the shame of it not "really" being Olivier, you can join me in defeating the gelatinous potato salad incursion into our universe with the blinding light of justice, pork, and garlic.