This week’s Persian food recipe is for Salad Olivier (سالاد الیویه) — a Russian salad that made its way across the border into the Persian bellies nearly a century ago and has since been adopted as a beloved classic staple of informal Iranian cuisine.
The Origins of Salad Olivier (салат оливье)
Salad Olivier has fancy roots entwined with a tale of invention, intrigue, and wicked maneuvering.
Once upon a time in Russia … well, actually in the late 1860s …Lucien Olivier, the Belgian-born chef of the Hermitage, one of Moscow’s most celebrated restaurants, created a unique recipe. Lucien’s super-secret recipe, which later on came to be known as Olivier Salad, became the immensely popular signature dish of Hermitage restaurant.
As it so often happens, the success of one often breeds the jealous contempt of another, and Ivan Ivanov, one of Olivier’s sous chefs, took advantage of the chef’s rare absence one day and in a move straight out of the Dastardly Deeds of Conduct (someone should write this book) stole Olivier’s jealously guarded secret recipe. Whereupon, Ivan ran off to make his fortune off of a recipe that did not belong to him.
In the end, however, Ivan Ivanov’s treachery introduced Salad Olivier to palettes, people, and cultures other than just the rarefied Russian gourmands and intelligentsia who frequented the Hermitage Moscow hotspot so that in a Karmic twist, Ivanov assured the enduring name of Olivier, the original creator.
Fun fact: Russians love an Olivier salad! It is a tradition in Russia (and the former Soviet Union countries) to prepare generous batches of this world-famous potato salad for Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners.
The Sentimental Roots of the Russian Salad in Iran
If you grew up in Iran, you definitely had Salad Olivier — best enjoyed as a sandwich paired with potato chips and a soft drink — and its very name evokes memories of fun picnics; lively informal family gatherings; or a deli sandwich treat your grandmother spoiled you with.
While it has a nostalgic aura, Salad Oliver is a modern favorite as well, firmly adopted by now as a classic Persian food. There is a hopping deli in my neighborhood (well, it was hopping before Corona) famous for its Salad Olivier sandwich — they also offer it in pint-sized to-go tubs to later spread on a sangak or barbari bread of your choice at home and to your heart’s content. YUM!
Which brings us to a pivotal point and query: What is salad Olivier, exactly?
What is Salad Olivier?
The original Lucien Olivier dish served at the high-brow Moscow hotspot contained rare and expensive items such as grouse, veal tongue, crayfish tails, capers, smoked duck, and caviar!
The modern version of salad Olivier has very little to do with the original.
As often happens with gourmet recipes which become popular, the ingredients that were rare, expensive, seasonal, or difficult to prepare were gradually replaced with cheaper and more readily available foods. [Wiki Source]
There are different versions of the modern-day Salad Olivier from country to country and household to household. In this post, I’m sharing the recipe that I grew up with, which is made with potato, eggs, chicken, carrots, sweet peas, & crunchy cornichons — seasoned with salt and pepper — and dressed with as much mayonnaise as your conscience permits.
Crunchy and creamy at the same time, each bite contains different flavors and textures. It is perfect, but perfect, with good bread, and some potato chips and pairs delightfully with a refreshing soda or sparkling beverage of your choice. Make sure to raise a toast to Lucien Olivier while you enjoy it.
OK, let’s now go & check out the easy and yummy recipe and do make sure to read the tips to make the best Salad Olivier, aka Russian Salad:
- 1 chicken breast – fully cooked & shredded
- 1 large potato – peeled, cooked, chopped
- 2 hard-boiled eggs – chopped
- 1 large carrot – cooked, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas – cooked & drained
- A few cornichons or dill pickles – chopped
- Mayonnaise (or 1/2 mayonnaise + 1/2 thick yogurt) amount to taste
- Salt & Pepper
- Parsley sprigs and/or radishes for optional garnish
- Allow the cooked ingredients to cool to room temperature before mixing.
- In a big bowl, gently mix all the chopped (or finely diced) ingredients.
- Add just enough mayonnaise to bind the salad together. Start with 1-2 tablespoons and add more as you see fit for a more creamy texture.
- Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour or even overnight to allow the flavors to come together.
Tips for making the best Salad Olivier:
I prefer a chunky salad Olivier, so I chop up the ingredients for my Olivier salad, but if you would rather have a creamier texture, finely dice the ingredients instead of chopping them.
Use a towel or tissue to dry the cornichons (or dill pickles) before mixing with other ingredients to avoid a soggy salad texture.
To make this a vegetarian affair, skip the chicken. Slightly increase the amount of potato and hardboiled eggs to make up for it. It will be equally yummy as a vegetarian recipe.
For a healthier but equally delicious salad Olivier, use a half-yogurt half-mayonnaise dressing. Thick yogurt (i.e. Greek yogurt) would work best in this scenario.
Add the dressing only to the portion of salad that you will eat that same day. The salad will keep longer without the mayonnaise dressing.
- Serve chilled.
- For a festive presentation, mold into a shape of your choice with a cookie cutter or by using your (super clean!) hands.
- Garnish with chopped parsley or radish bits.
Enjoy as a side, a salad, or as the main event.
Crunchy salty potato chips (I recommend the salt & vinegar chips) make the creamy salad Olivier even more irresistible. That, and definitely some good bread. The occasion also calls for your soda pop or sparkling beverage of choice.