why-were-afraid-to-cook-salad-olivier Recipes

why we’re afraid to cook + salad olivier

I’ve had an entire week to read your cooking phobias as they rolled in and you know what? I had a lot fewer cooking fears when I started this process! I mean, fish? offal? phyllo? Why hadn’t I thought of those? Thank goodness I warned you I’d be doing some outsourcing.

your cooking phobias

[View the details of your cooking phobias over here.]

But really, when you read 363 tales of kitchen apprehension in a row, several times, certain things smack you in the face. Like the fact that we’re all such worrywarts, aren’t we? And so irrational, determining that just because something went horribly awry once, it will continue to do so for ever and ever and..

You’re right, I’m talking mostly about myself, but surely at least some of these reasons are familiar:

Why We’re Afraid to Cook

1. Our mother or mother-in-law cooks it better: Whether it is out of respect, deference or certainty that your version will pale, it seems that there are many of you who don’t even want to touch dishes that are others’ signatures.

2. The Food Police scared us: They’ve struck an absurd amount of fear into our hearts, now our panic over undercooked chicken and eggs or imperfectly canned food is so great, we cannot approach either calmly or rationally. (Don’t worry, I’ll get to all of these in time.)

3. It went really badly the last time (or times) we made it: So you’ve responded by keeping your distance. Had I not been actually forced by the deadline of the wedding and my desire to make a specific frosting for the wedding cake, I would have taken a year to get back to Swiss buttercream. At least.

4. We jinx ourselves: Failure is so often a self-fulfilling prophesy, wherein we are so certain something is going to go wrong, we indeed make some futzy errors. (This would be me, with phyllo, every single time.)

5. It’s hard to get our head around the steps: I admit, I feel more confident when I can remember a recipe without even looking back at it, because it is simple, or proceeds in logical steps. I always forget that I’m only expected to do one thing at a time.

6. There’s a very specific deal breaker: It requires pig’s blood, will stink up your apartment or serve 24 people. Kim Severson discussed these in a funny article in the New York Times last month, and she’s absolutely right. It only takes one word of some of these for me to flip the page and call out “next!”

7. We’re afraid of wasting an expensive ingredient: Many of you mentioned this in reference to large cuts of meat and good fish, where the price of making an error seems so steep, a flop is that much more of a risk. I totally get it as when I blow it on a pricey dish, I feel that much more awful about it.

8. Our skills aren’t where we wish they were: Recipes that require poached eggs, when you’re terrible at poaching eggs, just seem easier to skip. So can instructions that demand a fine brunoise or long, thin juliennes if you haven’t taken a semester of knife skills, or have a natural finesse in the area (or a really good mandoline, at least in the case of juliennes).

red onion for salad olivier

Do I have answers to all of these? Well, not today, but I will in time–well, on everything but the offal that is, a girl’s got to draw the line somewhere.

However, reason number one–“Our mother-in-law cooks it better”–got me thinking about my Alex’s mother Salad Olivier, something I adore but when I tried to make it at home a few years ago–my first potato salad ever, and also with virtually no experience cooking potatoes–it was a gloppy disaster and I haven’t made it since.

pickles for salad oliver

Or hadn’t. I mean, if I’m going to try to get us through our cooking worries here, I suppose I should take the lead and reattempt one of the easiest salads on earth, right?

Now, before you say “I’ve had Salad Olivier and we made it with this and not that,” and also “You’re doing it wrong!” let me warn you that my mother-in-law says that you can put three Russians in a room and they will all make it differently–and they’ll all be right.

Of course, her’s is the most right because it’s getting featured here today. So there.

salad olivier

One year ago: Red Pepper Soup

Salad Olivier
Adapted from Alex’s mother

By the way, even after all of my fussing, I still overcooked the potatoes this time and determined it not as good as my mother-in-laws’. The difference is, I suspect I’ll be revisiting this again much sooner this time because it is so delicious, I cannot let fear keep us apart any longer.

2 pounds Russet potatoes, boiled, peeled and finely diced (1/4- to 1/2-inch for this and all chopped ingredients)
2 eggs, hard-boiled, finely diced (optional)
1 small red or white onion, finely diced
3/4 cup mayonnaise (low-fat, or a mixture of mayo and sour cream work great here)
3 small dill pickles, finely diced
1 cup canned peas and carrots, drained or 1/2 cup cooked peas and 1 carrot, chopped and cooked
Salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients and season to taste.

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147 comments on why we’re afraid to cook + salad olivier

  1. There’s always something isn’t there? Still, each time a recipe goes RIGHT for me I find my inner three year old shouting “I DID IT!!” (and my real life three year old asking me “Did what, mommy? Did what?”)

    My favorite was when I went from someone who really didn’t like potato salad to someone who loves it, as long as it is when I make my new favorite recipe for potato salad. :D

  2. Oh, and hopefully your MIL isn’t the type to “accidentally” leave out a small, but important ingredient for getting the right flavor.

  3. Do extremely demanding cookbook authors (you know, the zucchini has to be hand-picked with blossoms within the last 60 minutes or the vanilla MUST be from Madagascar) count as food police, or are they in a different category?

  4. My mother in law makes the best potato salad in the world. Everyone could potentially fight over the leftovers, in fact, I have almost seen it happen. Not an outright fight of course, we’re Minnesotan Lutherans after all, but strategic placement of the leftovers so no one else will find it, first to the refrigerator later in the night and then of course there is eating it during clean up. Anyway, I did get her recipe and mine batch was good, but not exactly hers! After making it, way too much work to do the potatoes and cook the sauce. She is a jem for making it over and over again. It will be part of her legacy. See photo of it on my blog (search for “Summer Vacation” and you’ll see photo). Seriously to die for food!! Made the old fashioned way by cooking the eggs, milk, sugar together to make your own mayonaise.

  5. Salad Olivier! Oh haha I had the same experience with blinchiki a few days ago. My boyfriend’s mother makes it different from his grandmother and apparently mine is somewhere between theirs! I’ve tried their recipes but they always come in the form of “this many spoonfuls” and “a bowlful of this” and of course my spoons and bowls are different. Nevertheless I love it! I enjoy the ocassional Russian recipes you post and would love to see more!

  6. Mandy, my mother in law is so guilty of that! My husband, his sister, and uncle have been working together for years to figure out what she keeps leaving out of the family meat sauce recipe. Now I’ve been watching her like a hawk too but she’s so sneaky and quick.

  7. it took me over a decade, to figure out how to boil Russets for potato salad w/o overcooking – quarter them first. they cook faster and the outside isn’t mush before the inside is done. leaving the peel on while boiling helps too. hth.

  8. Is that really Olivier salad? The staple of Russian feasts?
    Your mother-in-law is right, we all make it slightly different but I think you got all the major ingredients in there, you even mentioned the mixture of sour cream and mayo as a dressing.

    BTW it’s the first time I see a vegetarian version of Olivier but I would not be the one to complain .

  9. My family is Russian, but oddly doesn’t make this at home (they eat it at other people’s homes!). I love all potato salads, so delighted to add this to my list. I like adding a little mustard, though is admittedly not authentic. I also might add some radish for crunch – and radishes are very Russian.

    Other Russian favorite- cold borscht with garnishes (eggs, potatoes, pickles, cucumbers, dill).

    Once my ice cream maker arrives, I’ll be making the sorbet.

  10. i saw the title of this post and thought to myself, awesome she’s making persian food! i had no idea that this very uncharacteristic persian luncheon staple was actually a russian dish! regardless, yum. my mom makes it with leftover cooked chicken and a bit of mustard.

    (so happy to have stumbled onto your blog by the way — it’s really lovely =)

  11. OK Kids: ‘fess up: WHAT KIND OF PICKLES for this salad: dill? B&B? What?
    and also, Anya says “… this vegetarian version…”; what is in the version with meat?
    Thanks all.

  12. LOL on number one reason. I love that that my boyfriend’s mother cooks completely different things than I do. We once made a recipe of her mother’s and “wasn’t quite the same” but I reminded myself that of course it wasn’t – family recipes are imbued with love and memories of what was … you just have to carry them on and turn them into what will be.

    Maybe I will conquer my phyllo fear this weekend… you reminded me that it’s been on the “request” list for several weeks now.

  13. Selkie — The pickles are dill. Many versions of this salad are made with cubed chicken breast as well, but Alex’s mother never makes it that way.

  14. I’m with Selkie….Sweet pickles?….Dill?? Argh!

    The potatoes I can handle….and I’m assuming the pickles are sweet. I have never been able to duplicate my Moms potato salad, and unfortunately, she passed away before I could wrestle the recipe away from her. This sounds uber-yummy. Let me know if the pickles are something other than sweet. :)

  15. Iranians take the Salad Olivier recipe to the next level. It’s an intimidating salad and I won’t touch it. My Iranian husband & his mom actually have competitions regarding who can make a better Salad Olivier!

  16. You are so right. Worrying is one of the main problems. Sometimes the best advice for tackling a cooking phobia is to just keep trying. Make it once. If it doesn’t work out, try it again. Or ask friends for help. I resolve to try cooking everything (though I do have few phobias!).

  17. At first, I thought, “Peas and carrots in potato salad?” But you can’t tell by reading or looking at a picture. Even in person, the eyes deceive. You have to taste. And as Jamie Oliver says, “Mr. Potato is best friends with peas and carrots” in other applications, why not in salad? God, I love this blog. Eye candy bolstered by plain language, good stories and THE most supportive atmosphere. A-plus, gold star, three cheers…all of the above. Thanks for being here.

  18. Kate: “I reminded myself that … family recipes are imbued with love and memories of what was … you just have to carry them on and turn them into what will be.”

    Beautifully said.

  19. #3, 4, and 7 are definitely me. Failure in the kitchen can be really depressing, especially because I’m running on a shoestring budget and don’t have much time. I’m in law school and working two jobs in order to afford not to eat ramen all the time, so when I fail in the kitchen, it can be extremely upsetting. Unless it’s literally not edible, I have to eat it, because I can’t get that money back. All week I’ve been eating this eggplant caviar that for some god-awful reason called for a tablespoon of salt, and I feel like wretching every time. For some reason, shoving food down your throat as quickly as possible to ignore the taste is no better when it’s self imposed than when it’s Mom making you do it! I’ll be looking forward to your tips; hopefully less of this will happen in the future.

  20. Debbie,
    Your salad “Olivier” looks very authentic, and I am sure, it tastes great.
    Let me know if you want any other russian receipes to try out.

  21. I would love to see the chart larger, however, i am not a flicker contact and therefore, do not have the “view all sizes” option. Would you be willing to link to the larger view version of the pie chart? mmmmm, data! delicious!

    And i didn’t answer before (longtime reader, poor commenter) so i am afraid of yeast, for sure.

  22. The thing about the Mother-in-Law issue is that, as much as you may like your version better (and I usually do) it is a complete turn-off to cook something for someone who will tell you the dish is good – but not as good – as their mother’s

    especially when I cook from scratch and said mother makes insta-food.

    ya know?

  23. Hi Deb — This is in the “Everything Old is New Again” category. I love this salad. I can vouche it’s Russian. My mother was born in Russia — in 1914, she’s 94! But I bet someone else says, no, it’s Italian, I learned from my Italian grandmother. I learned to make this from her. She skipped the carrots, her’s had peas and canned beets. Trust Deb, it’s delicious.
    I’ve tried to make her eggplant caviar several times and gave up. Why? I know the method, I know the ingredients. But, I never wrote down, I don’t have her stove, her pot, her hand doing the stirring. (Your mother-in-law’s recipe is different, but I promise I will try it . . . soon.)

    We also made cookies we called “Auntie Barbara’s Pie”. It wasn’t pie, it’s a bar cookie. Why did we call it pie? No idea. This was a recipe I learned fifty years ago. Guess what? You’ve printed it as Hungerian Shortbread (I think?) I saw Gale Gand on FoodTV and she called it “Lydia’s Rashberry Shortbread” (I think?) Trust Deb, this is the BEST cookie ever!

    The good ones get handed down. My point? Everyone needs to stand next to their mothers, mother-in-laws, dads, etc. and learn the recipes you love, and MOST important: WRITE IT DOWN! Trust me on this, you think you’ll remember . . . you won’t.

  24. I just threw away 24 blackberry muffins that I had planned to take to work because the blackberries sunk and so did the crumb topping (right into the middle of the muffin) and they were inedible. The batter sure did taste good tho! This is my first muffin failure, but it won’t cause me to keep trying new recipes. I love your website and have successfully made things you have presented to us. Thanks for taking the time to put in the beautiful pictures.

  25. Oh Susan that’s a shame! What a lousy disappointment. Could this be a recipe failure? Oven issue? I’m not trying to make too big a deal out of it, but how would you go about learning from it?

    Anyway, I wanted to say that I actually PRINTED the graph (nouns: nerd, geek, anal retentive, OCD) and it came out letter sized. If you put your cursor on the graph and right click, you can COPY and then minimize your browser and right click on your desktop and PASTE. This will create a file that you can look at and print. My problem is that I can’t tell which green got a third of the votes: was it cake, fried chicken or rice?

  26. I do a potato salad kind of like this one — it has capers, no pickles or peas, tiny tiny carrot bits (you could pulse them in the food processor, they’re that small) just barely steamed, parsley and everything else is the same. I like to use creme fraiche with a little mayo but it works with just plain mayo quite fine. I do like a little more of the hb eggs in there than this recipe calls for.
    Linda, I’m betting on cake being the biggest phobia — so much can go wrong…

  27. Ooh, I had no idea this was a salad with a name! i make a really similar potato salad myself and all along it was already in existence! I love the capers and pickles in there, tangy goodness.

  28. I looked at the pie chart and was stunned to see that more than 25 % were afraid of cakes. I then realised it was “other” and calmed down.

  29. E. J., I had to laugh at your comment…my first challah for my husband’s family many years ago was received with the “doorstop” comment…and 30+ years later, I am teasingly reminded of that brick! Now I use a recipe that is very well received! There’s hope!

  30. I have to add to the comments of Selkie (#12) and Leighann (#15). They type of pickle is very, very important. When my father (Southern Indiana) married my stepmother (Georgia coast) when I was a teenager, I discovered that there was more than one type of pickle. Many a sandwich has been ruined by mindlessly pulling a pickle from the fridge without reading the label first (B&B pickles are almost as disgusting to me as Miracle Whip). There are very strong regional alliances over pickles. Yes, this is a salad of Russian origin so it most likely calls for dill pickles. But, I bet there are cooks in the South who make a version with sweet pickles – and their kids think it is the only authentic way to make it.

  31. #7 is defenitly the onefor me. I cant even remeber how many times I didnt do a cake or a dish simply because i though I would waste an expensive ingridient.

    for another matter, if i`ll replace the mayonnaise in the salad to sour cream alone (without mayonnaise) , will it be ok? i simply really dont like mayonnaise, and this salad sounds good.

  32. This is quite similar to my Polish grandmother’s recipe but she always used very crunchy purchased from the refrigerated section kosher dill pickles (we’re not Jewish, she just liked the crunch of them), added an apple (I think this one’s the real secret ingredient), polish sausage (which I always skipped when I made this years ago – never been a big fan), used a white onion and usually mixed mayo and miracle whip and added some pickle juice for the tang. I think that’s it but this reminds me of my long list of “recipes” (she eyeballs everything, even ingredients for baking – still not quite sure how that works chemistry-wise but she’s never failed at anything) that I need to get from her while I still can. Thankfully she’s pretty good about sharing the reasons for what she adds and that helps because without measurements, you at least know what flavor or texture component you’re shooting for. I do tend to get pretty close on her dishes when I try them and I always outdo my mother-in-law with one exception – chicken pot pie – but I’ll leave her that one. When your Italian in-laws can’t stop talking about your meatballs (made w/turkey btw) and sauce (thank you Giada!), and are shocked that their Polish daughter-in-law can make such good Italian food, you feel pretty good and that feeling of having something to prove dissipates pretty quickly. Now if only I could get my grandmother’s Christmas Eve borscht and pierogi dough right – the borscht is supposed to be vegetarian – my aunt and I are convinced she put beef in hers for years and now won’t ‘fess up to breaking a religious rule and keeping it a secret. Her borscht is very different from Russian borscht – it’s a hot, red, tangy, clear soup filled with teeny tiny mushroom uszka (dumplings) – it’s soo good. Alas, still so much to learn!

    Love the blog btw! Relatively new to it and I can’t stop turning the pages.

  33. Yum!

    One question – what kind of pickles?? Sweet or dill? (maybe it doesnt matter, but if I want to get your authentic, best version, I need the right pickle… :)

    Cant wait to make this. What a great summer staple!!

  34. Wow, when I was a kid growing up in Iran salad Olivier was my favourite thing ever! I haven’t had it in years, maybe i will try making it. I think a lot of Iranian versions add chicken as well.

  35. I’ve always been semi-lousy at baking anything that wasn’t the ‘from a box with 3 easy steps’ variety. I did have success with gougeres once, but I also once made the worlds worst guiness chocolate cake – dry, dense, bitter, etc. Maybe it’s how I contribute balance to the universe…

  36. Recipes from relatives! More inlaw or family feuds have started over those recipes! I dogged my MIL for her potato salad recipe and have it down-pat now. But I like another type as well, maybe more. Potato salads (like brownies and cornbread) are like politics..everyone believes they have the Only answer, and everyone else is just misinformed! Thank goodness there are many ways to make it so we can all be happy.

    Patience and persistance are the keys to getting any recipe or technique perfected. I just refuse to think that anything that can be thought up and written down by someone else, is out of my realm of success. I’m not much of an innovater though, I do need the recipe for many things. In some instances though, the recipe writer is just too fussy,( like a certain Napa Valley Chef we all know and love!) and the procedures can be worked around. It takes some experience (read: successes and failures) to learn that. That’s why the newer cooks should work through the process, again and again if necessary, and learn it..dern it! Yes..a prime rib is costly but an egg is not. Practice roasting on a cheaper cut..like a cross rib, just to learn how to do it. If you fail..you can make roast beef hash and not feel terrible about it!

    Thanks for going through this with all of us, Deb. You are priceless!

  37. Love, love, love potato salad. Especially my late mother’s salad. She added mustard for kick and pickle juice (or vinegar) for tang. But, like you, I tend to screw up when boiling potatoes, they are either under or over cooked. So, sadly, I stick to pasta salads and hope someone offers me some good potato salad every summer.

    I was very surprised at the number of comments regarding cooking rice. For me it’s a snap. If only potaoes were so easy.

  38. I HATE the food police. They’re idiots. If raw eggs could kill you, that would mean that we couldn’t eat cookie dough. To hell with that thinking!

    The potato salad looks great. I like the originality of it and yes, I know how it is to over-cook the potatoes for potato salad – VERY easy to do. But, at least it still tastes good, save for the slight lack in texture.

  39. I have another reason to add to your list – not the food police, but the critics. A picky young eater who refuses to eat tomatoes would stop you in your tracks from making tomato sauce – but even worse is the critical husband. At every meal, something is wrong. Too much salt, not enough, overcooked, undercooked, too cooled, the pork doesn’t have enough flavor, or the dreaded comment. “It’s just okay. I don’t know why, or what could make it better.”

    There’s nothing like working your butt off and putting your love into a meal only to be rejected at the dinner table to put you off from trying that recipe again, or stepping outside your comfort zone at all.

  40. My onedaytobe father-in-law likes to add a small amount of green apple and chicken to his. The green apple really gives it an extra kick. Other parents that I know like to add polska kielbasa.
    I don’t know if Alex’s family makes this, but you should inquire about Plov. Best rice dish ever, whether you make it traditionally with lamb, or if you modify it to chicken.

  41. Oh, Meggie! Not to get too much into marriage counseling or anything, but you DO know, don’t you, that it’s not supposed to be that way? My husband learned a long time ago that constant criticism was hazardous to his health. Tell your darling husband to make dinner himself.

  42. Meggie, that’s absolutely horrendous. I just can’t imagine how heartbreaking that must be. I’m with Susie. Get your husband to throw on an apron and see what it’s like to try really hard to make something great!

  43. I absolutely love salad olivier or any other type of potato salad! Unfortunately, here in the Netherlands there’s a company which became big with the Dutch version of russian salad/salad olivier called “huzaren salade”. Nowadays, it’s considered to be a bit tacky and stale to serve huzaren salade. I don’t care; I’m not a food snob and I make it myself.

  44. Olivier salad! My husband’s fave thing in the whole wide world – I had no idea there was an actual recipe! I learned how to make it from the nice lady at the deli near our apartment in Ukraine. I just hung out, watched and practiced my Russian until I could recite the method (couldn’t give a cab directions to our apartment, mind you, but I have the objective case down. “Now she is dicing the pickles for the salad,” I picked up, but “turn left here” – just couldn’t get it straight! ) But she always put peeled cukes and diced ham in too – so yummy!! Thanks for the memory jog – I’ll make this tomorrow for our cookout!

  45. Deb—What an interesting take on potato salad! You know, it’s probably just as well for family harmony if you never quite make it as well as your mother-in-law does. And I loved that deal breaker article in the times. My wife Marion even did a post based on the article, taking on one of her own culinary deal breakers, namely absorption pasta.

  46. I just threw away 24 blackberry muffins that I had planned to take to work because the blackberries sunk and so did the crumb topping (right into the middle of the muffin) and they were inedible. The batter sure did taste good tho!

    ^ Do you mean inedible as in, literally cannot eat lest you get food poisoning, or just wouldn’t taste as good as it should? ‘Cause seriously, who throws away 24 muffins? At the very, very least, there are some really hungry people in the world who would love some muffins, failed or not.

    Anyways, I love this site. Seriously. I made the watermelon salad and it was delicioussssss. Maybe I’ll make this recipe, too. I’ve got some potatoes kicking around that aren’t being used at the moment…

  47. Southerners wouldn’t dream of putting dill pickles in potato salad of any kind! But then, 90% of our recipes include a cream o’something soup so there you go.

    Cut the potatoes the size you want them to be. Rinse in cold water to get rid of some of the starch. Start cooking them in cold water and don’t boil violently. Remove from heat when they just reach the state you want them to be in and then rinse with cold water immediately.

    Go crazy. Add some salt to the cooking water.

  48. My kids absolutely die for my potato salad – it’s pretty much the same as yours, except I add a hefty spoonful of homemade white horseradish and it transforms the entire salad into something that explodes with flavor upon contact. It somehow makes all the other ingredients taste better together. Try it!

  49. Giggle, see, carrots, I just don’t like them so I won’t make anything that has them. Yes, I could leave them out, but then it wouldn’t be the recipe so why even make it in the first place (at least that’s my rationalization for not making this!)

  50. This Mississippi girl can’t imagine potato salad without eggs or dill pickle. And mayo. We love us some mayonnaise! And in N. Mississippi, lots of black pepper. I make my mom’s. She poured zesty italian (or vinaigrette)on the hot potatoes. They absorb the spices. When cool, proceed — and maybe add a bit of minced celery, but I think the apple would be even better.

  51. I was at a dinner party last night, and one of the guests shared a funny potato salad story. The cook was also attempting to reproduce her mother-in-laws famous potato salad. She chopped pickles and onions. She followed the directions to at Tee. But the salad just didn’t taste right. What did she forget? The potatoes

  52. I agree, there are certainly things I avoid cooking. I especially tend to avoid a recipe where it calls for a small amount of a spice or sauce that I don’t have and don’t feel like paying $10 for only to use 1/2 tsp.

    I don’t think I’ve ever had potato salad with pickles in it…. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever made a homemade potato salad. I’ll have to try it to accompany some burgers.

  53. Toss in some cubed ham- makes it that much better. And get yourself some Russian pickles- not the yellow-from-excess-vinegar kind. :-p
    You could also do the same thing, but toss in some chopped boiled beets (fastest in the pressure cooker) and omit the mayo. Then you’d have a “vinegret!” (I was so confused the first time I heard of “vinaigrette” as a dressing lol)

  54. I know your MIL doesn’t make it with this special ingredient, but trust me it will make your potato salad taste so good. just add some crushed pineapple. i love it. :)

  55. Wow… I’m super lucky. I’ve only been married for 2.5 months, but I’ve been with my husband for 3 years and I’ve known his family since I was a teenager. In all of that time, my now MIL always gives me her recipes. I guess it helps that she doesn’t cook that often, so it’s really just a couple of recipes!

    Now… trying to get a recipe out of my grandmother is like pulling teeth! She swears she doesn’t remember (and I actually believe her!)

  56. I wonder how many different kinds of potato salad there are??!? My sister is here visiting, and I proudly pulled from the fridge a bowl of “her” potato salad. She politely wrinkled her nose and advised that the potatoes were undercooked, and should be sliced, not cubed. Also, “you didn’t use Helllman’s did you? because the recipe says Hellman’s and you really need to stick to that.” No I did not use Hellman’s, and in fact used light (maybe even fat free!), as well as 1% cottage cheese, rather than the full fat cottage cheese called for in the recipe. She picked right up on that too!

    I never make anything as good as my mother-in-law. Sigh.

  57. It’s great to come back to a failed recipe with a few years more experience under your belt. The first time I made risotto it was a stodgy, chalky mess because I blindly followed the recipe and stopped adding stock when my 4 cups ran out. A year later I came back with a sense of how things *should* taste and it was so much better.

    You won’t hear any criticisms of this salad’s authenticity from me. I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds delicious :)

  58. The Salad Olivier looks wonderful, but I feel the need to comment on the food police! I frequently wonder how I survived childhood, what with potluck food sitting around for hours, mayo-based salads sitting around at picnics, eating rare hamburgers and undercooked scrambled eggs, etc. I know there are people with compromised immune systems who have to be careful, but I really think it’s gone too far….

  59. Ooh delicious. And I thank good every day that my MIL only cooks simple southern (US) food or out of a can!

    My phobia is traditional buttercream frosting. Three time disaster…best way to ruin a perfectly good cake!

  60. Phyllo is a good thing to make. I wish I could trade skills with someone. I’ll trade my knowledge of phyllo for anyone’s knowledge of grilling. It does take a village!

  61. That salad – with the addition of apples – has been made as long as I remember at my family’s traditional Polish Easter Christmas dinners. We even add it to the Thanksgiving table as our one Polish addition. At one point in my teens it became my job to make this and I have been doing it ever since and because I didn’t like onions as a child, we never added those. It was so nice to see it on your site! This is one of my favourite family recipes.

  62. Thanks for compiling these, this is fascinating. In our kitchen, we have a weird developing ‘gender’ territory that is limiting our kitchen activities. Do automatically skips baking recipes, whether bread or deserts, because that’s ‘my’ territory. I automatically leave meat-centric dishes to him (grilling, steaks, roast), as well as chili. Part of this is simply preferences (I know he loves chili, so I’m going to let him have at it), part of it is silly. I mean, c’mon, why should she bake deserts and he grill?

  63. Thanks for trying to help us all through our cooking fears! I find it incredibly generous to not only demonstrate delicious recipes, but to literally coach us through specific problems.

  64. I grew up in Russia and this is my favorite salad ever! This salad is present at every single family celebration. We often add chicken to it, or sometimes even hotdogs. It’s also good with Granny Smith apples and defrosted peas instead of canned. This is definitely one of the comfort foods, if only it did not take so long to make :)

    And make sure you make enough to keep as leftovers: it only gets better as it sits.

  65. I had the worst case of “My Mother Made It Better” with 5 male college housemates. I got peaches at the farmer’s market, and made a peach cobbler. “My mother’s was better”. Not to be deterred, I found a different recipe and made another one – the same day!!! Same response. Seven hours, countless pounds of peaches, and FOUR more totally consumed peach cobblers later – that same d*mn hot sticky endless day… “My mother’s was still better.”

    I finally asked how their respective mothers made it. All the same response – “B1squ1ck”!

    Last time I made any of them peach cobbler.

    Heathens.

  66. well once i overcook the potatoes and it starts getting mushy while i’m putting in the mayo and stuff- I just convert it into mashed potatoes… my strategy with food is to improvise or call it “a la …” it works.

  67. I think of cooking like I think of a new haircut- what’s the worst that could happen? I am not a risk taker in the sense of bungee jumping, but I love cooking things I’ve never made before, and am happy asking my hairdresser to choose a new cut for me.

  68. My kitchen phobia? Swiss broyage. I attempted it once, when I was @ 14, and it was a dismal failure. Never since. I bake yeast bread frequently (love the CI Dutch oven version), have no trouble with phyllo, but SB has me buffaloed. Maybe it’s time to have another shot at it.

  69. while this is “salad olivier” and not “potato salad,” this is still the best potato salad i have ever had/made. even better than MY mother’s. i’m normally horribly impatient and can’t stand to chop and dice everything the same size, but i had a bit of extra time on my hands today so i did. and it paid off. delicious. :)

  70. finally! My brothers and I have been searching for years for my mother’s potato salad recipe – who knew that it was salad olivier? I think the only difference is that our mother put some pickle juice in the salad, but we could never figure out the measurements. Thanks for sharing this!

  71. persians often serve salad olivier at the new year’s celebratory picnic or other large gatherings but we cook the salad with chicken. food of life by najmieh batmanglij haa a nice recipe (salad olivieh, page 30) spelled olivieh! i suggest cooking the chicken whole by roasting it with the skin on and then removing the skin, and rather than chopping the chicken into cubes, tearing it for a more rustic and appetizing appearance and texture. i spend my morning eating breakfast and slowly sipping my coffee with your site and ree drummonds pioneer woman. thank you!

  72. Hi Deb,

    I’m an equally quarter Jewish/Russian/Georgian/Mordovian and live in Azerbaijan.
    Russian food is extremely popular here, although naturally have been slightly modified over years.

    In case you might want to try it, here’s Azeri version, which is a MUST at any family do/fancy dinner/wedding etc:

    We dice vegetables quite finely (potato/carrot cube should not be more that 6-7 mil), we add equal amount of pickled gerkins and fresh cucumber, finely chop onions, some people add radishes, and the egg potato ratio is 1 large egg to 1 medium potato. Total list of ingredients is: potatoes, carrots, eggs, canned peas, gherkins, cucumbers, green onion, dill, parsley, radishes. Adding some sort of meat is a must in our version, whether it is kielbasa, chicken or ham. End result is to die for, although does not taste quite like potato salad.

    I have got to say I am totally in love with your site, have tried quite a few recipes already and have got chocolate caramel cheesecake in the oven as we speak!!!

  73. First of all, thank you so much for this wonderful website and tons of great recipes – it’s a life saver for me…

    I’ve never heard of vegetarian version of Olivier salad (I’m from Moscow originally.) We add sausages (same kind as they sell in Russian stores here) or “doctorskaya” kielbasa (I think it’s similar to Italian “mortadella” (sp?). Also it’s supposed to be presented as a dome in a bowl (rather than flat) and we like to put a small “mushroom” on top (1/3 tomato on top of half an an egg.) If you add chicken and apple then it’s Warsawian salad. Judging by your MIL recipes, your husband is probably from Ukraine/odessa, right? (They tend refer to eggplants as “siniye” while we call them “baklazhany.”) And yes, I was really surprised that local (NY) Persian restaurants carry perfect versions of Olivier…

  74. Hi, I am a fairly new reader to this site and was so happy to find this article. Just last night, I was inspired by your nectarine tart, but intimidated by making my own dough. But your beautiful photography convinced me to try it and it turned out wonderfully. Yes..I burned the edges, but my fear of the pie crust is now gone. Thank you.

  75. You`d think I`d have lost my fear of cooking when I was pushed into a situation where I had to cook breakfast for 70-90 people everyday, alone, with little cooking experience, none of it professional.
    Wrong. My most recent freeze up moment was when I screwed up a meringue for a large family dinner at my boyfriend`s place…how come I can make a perfect meringue to feed 90 people in a tent (oh, right…that breakfast cooking job was in a remote work camp in Northern Canada, where the kitchen is a tent in the middle of the woods), but I can`t in a regular kitchen for 14 people? I almost gave up completely, retreated to the nearest bakery to buy something chocolatey, but I didn`t, and the resulting Pavlova was worth it. From now on, I`m just going to go for it.
    Deb, I`d also like to thank you for all the inspiration you supply us with. Thanks to your LOVELY wedding cake photos and recipe, my sister got a homemade wedding cake for her reception this August, and I learned how to…well, make wedding cakes! It was a little nerve-wracking, but so much fun!

  76. I always thought this was a persian dish! My family says it with a thick accent- I thought it was ‘Salad Dolovi’e”! My mom used to make this dish almost every friday so that when people came and went all weekend there would be food in the fridge that didn’t need preparing- just pita and mustard. It is so sweet to see this on your site that I love.
    Also, this is EXACTLY how the rest of my family makes it- my mom omits the peas.

  77. So that’s the potato salad I kept getting when I lived in Russia! I was there for a summer-and they kept giving me this amazing potato salad-always tasted different , but always great. They mounded it up high…which was always kinda cool.
    My friend Eugenia had her Russia husband make it for me. Yep, that was the one!

  78. Hey, you forgot ham! No ham, no Olivier. Thanks for posting this, I love this salad, reminds me of home and my grandma and other good things from childhood. This is so much better than plain potato salad, try making it with home-made mayo, it is delicious.

  79. Better yet, try with cooked tongue! OMG, I want to go back to Russia, this is a staple at any celebration, along with Salad Vinaigrette – another version of potato salad made with beets and dressed with plain sunflower oil, mmm!

  80. I only found this blog..so am a little late for posting..but just wanted to say that I rarely boil potatoes anymore for salads. I roast them instead. They have much more flavor and when I made this recipe it was great.

    Love this site.

  81. I’ve been looking for a good recipe for Olivier for years! I had a Russian boyfriend in college and he made it a few times per his mother’s instruction. I’m so excited about this :) Thanks for all the great recipes, I’m excited to start trying some out!

  82. oh, deb… in my family we love it. I grew up on it. pickles are essential! yum!:o) it’s funny how many names it has and in how many versions we can find it. here in slovenia, we call it french salad, with meat or fish however changes name to olivier/russian salad. I’m gonna try your recipe, adding a bit of onion might be an interesting twist.

  83. It`s actually called “OLIVIE” with a short soft sound that only russians can pronounce. It is originally made with luncheon meat but have been adapted and most now make it with chicken breast. you can add anything to it, it`ll still be great. Priyatnogo appetita!

  84. I chuckled reading the comments about never having pickles in potato salad before! Here in Oklahoma, sometimes you get more pickle than potato! I will have to try this soon, as my hubby is learning to love potato salad after a childhood filled with mustard-based potato salad, and that man hates mustard :)

  85. So true about not one Olivie ( how I call it lol) is the same!
    I always add cooked chicken meat, ( back in the days my moom used to slice hotdogs), double the eggs, use fresh cooked peas (the canned one we used in Russia, when fresh ones weren’t available) and always add sour cream. You can’t have Russian food without the sour cream!

  86. Oh my goodness, I had no idea there was a name for this – let alone a recipe on a website I visit all the time! I pretty much lived on this stuff during my study abroad semester in Russia. The cafeteria ladies figured out how much I loved it and would give me extra helpings. . .aww, good times.

    Now excuse me, I have to go to the store and buy pickles. :-)

  87. Great recipe. But as for people leaving out ingredients in “their” recipes. . . . I find it a bizarre concept. Not something anyone in my family would ever do. Food is for sharing and enjoying, What sort of sad pathetic person would begrudge another person the ability to make good food?

    Sorry, it just boggles my mind.

  88. Just clicked on this recipe link from today’s posting…I was thinking Salad Olivier? hmmm what’s that?
    As I read, I realized that this is my mom’s potato salad….everyone used to make fun of the fact that she would put peas and carrots and pickles in the salad…but everyone ALWAYS had seconds, thirds and fourths….
    Now if I make potato salad and I don’t make it like this the whole dang family whines!
    Totally my fave!

  89. The final ingredient she forgot to give you is the mandatory drunken guest asleep with his face in the salad! :D
    But I suppose it’s only a New Years dinner thing…
    Ask Alex, he’ll know:))

  90. I’m so glad to see this recipe. I love Salad Olivier but have never tried to make it. Brings back memories of a sadly short-lived restaurant in Columbus, OH — The Golden Gate. The name sounds Chinese, but it was Russian. Presiding over the dining room was a strong woman who told us what we were going to order. “No, you don’t want that, you want this.” Loved the place.
    -Lisa

  91. Curious to see just what Salad Oliver was I clicked on the recipe and realized that I have had it once before. I worked with a young Russian girl, Ludmila and she brought it to work one day. We all loved it. I’m going to make it soon. I do think that her did have chicken in it. Lovely

  92. Funny that you say everyone makes it differently. I was brought to America from Ukraine as a child and I absolutely refuse to eat anyone else’s salad olivier but my mama’s (not even my babushka’s!). She makes hers with peas, potatoes, eggs, pickles, mayo, bologna, salt, pepper…and I may be missing 1 more ingredient but I simply can’t recall on account of I never make it- why mess when you have a professional

  93. to make it vegan –> marinate extra firm tofu cubes (to substitute eggs) in a little ume plum vinegar and turmeric… substitute vegenaise for the mayo (or another vegan mayo) and if you want sour cream you can make and substitute cashew sour ‘cream’ (soaked ground cashews fermented with a probiotic left in a warm place over night to a few days for the desired flavor, it’s just a yogurt culture) or use a vegan packaged sour ‘cream’.
    *just like you said about your ‘right way’ as opposed to my ‘right way’ — my mum always added celery and green pepper, omitting the peas and carrots.. to each his own!

  94. Salad Olivier has so many variations and that’s the beauty of it but the main ingredient that will make it taste authentic to the Russian version is mayonnaise which is different in America. Whenever I make Russian salads I modify the mayonnaise by adding a dash of white wine vinegar and a bit of dijon mustard. Now I sound like a Russian babushka-not giving any actual measurements!

  95. Wow! Olivier with carrots? I’ve never seen that variation!

    I love this! It’s so weird to see an actual recipe for Olivier – this is one of those dishes where it always seemed like you add each ingredient until, you know, it looks like the right amount. Maybe it’s because Olivier is one of those things that’s usually made by the bucketful?

    In my family variation, there are also cucumbers – potatoes, cucumbers, pickles, eggs, peas, and mayo/sour cream. We’re mostly vegetarians, so it’s usually meat-free, but the addition of a good-quality tofu dog livens it up for those members who really miss the old country version.

    The nice thing is, as long as you get the crucial potato part right, it’s pretty hard to mess up.

    However, that said, the pickles *HAVE* to be some variation of dill (classic, Polish, garlic, whatever – but dill) in order for this dish to be authentic. Seriously – any 3 Russian people will make Olivier differently, but not one of them will use any other kind of pickle. Dill is the herb most frequently paired with potatoes in Russian cuisine, and it would just taste, well, *wrong* with any other kind of pickle.

  96. HA! I found a recipe for this from a Trader Joe’s newsletter just a couple months ago… it included olives. I thought that’s why it was called Olivier – for the olives! which btw, I left out when I made it – not a huge olive fan. No carrots though in recipe. Eggs about equal the potatoes.
    I’ve made it twice – first time with chicken, 2nd time without. Both times gone!

  97. try cutting all ingredients much smaller. Use mayo only or mayo with a small bit of sour cream. Try adding dill and fresh cucumber. If potatoes overcook, oil the knife and put some oil in the potatoes once they are cut. if too thick, save some juice from the caned peas and add to salad. That should help. I use this salad for all my “American” friends parties. Always the best.

  98. Turned out so well! I used 5 dill pickles and 1 can (instead of cup, whoops) of canned peas / carrots but it’s delicious.
    I think my boyfriend may finally stop making air quotes when I tell his mom I’ve been making Russian “food.”

    Also – your apple sharlotka is in the oven. Here’s hoping I have the Russian cooking gods on my side tonight!!

  99. Love your website! The salad looks authentic. In the Soviet Union, Olivie was made with bologne. I’ve never seen/tried a vegetarian version. I make mine with chicken. Good pickles are a must. You wrote that egg was optional, but again, I’ve never seen it without. I’ve made mine with low fat mayo/sour cream/mustard combo and thought it was awful. Just didn’t taste good or authentic to me. I now make it with real mayo mixed with some mustard. Yum!

  100. I made this tonight after weeks of wanting to make it, but just never getting around to it (I have an infant; you understand.), and it was well worth the wait. So, SO good. Holy crap. It’s so good. I have a friend who is Russian, and I asked him if his family makes Salad Olivier. He said yes, and that it’s too bad that I’m a vegetarian because it is made with meat. I just let that slide, knowing that I had your recipe waiting for me. Meat schmeat, this salad is perfect.

  101. My Polish mother makes this same salad for every holiday gathering. Now, thanks to your post, I know its name! The only difference in her recipe is that she also adds some diced raw apples. Sounds weird, but tastes delicious and adds nice texture. Thanks for sharing this!

  102. hi there)
    I am Russian, and we would always add some boiled and finely sliced chicken and a sliced apple in there. At least, this is the classic recipe of my family))

  103. One of my secrets to the perfect salad olivier is that it needs to sit in the fridge overnight. Before I moved to New York, all my New Years and family parties meant making olivier – and there were always leftovers because we cooked too much. Salad tasted so much better the next day – so my Mom and I decided to always make it in advance. Also, this saves so much precious energy for the day of the party!

  104. Five years late but here’s another Iranian who’s shocked to find out this is Russian (of course it makes perfect sense, since nothing in it is particularly Persian). Funny how you just never question things, growing up. If you ate it as a kid, you assume everybody from where you are also ate the same things. The only thing I ever questioned as a child was the carob my mom tried to pass off to me as chocolate. I knew that was bullshit!

  105. Oooohh, Olivye is sooooo yummy! A staple on everyone’s New Year’s Eve dinner table.
    I’m a vegan. I use tofu sprinkled with trumeric instead of eggs, and instead of “varenaya kolbasa” I use Yves Veggie Cuisine deli bologna (the taste and structure is very similar!). I think using sour cream isn’t such a great idea. Never saw anyone use it. Mayo (and there are many vegan options) is better and more true to roots.

  106. Hello. I like your website very much. The salad is called Olivyea.

    We have a various versions of this salad. You can add fresh cucumbers instead of pickles (eat it faster though as cucumbers expel water) or vice versa.

    We have made it with roasted chicken cubes or shrimp, or doctorskaya kalbasa.
    There is typically some kind of protein in it.

    Some people add cubed boiled carrots for color.

    Not all people put in onions. At times scallions are used. Cut in thin circles (just the green parts).

    Nonetheless all versions are delicious and must be tasted!! ^-^

    -Dasha

  107. Hi, I make this salad sometimes, not quite the same, who cares. here what i do with potatoes: i peel and cut them, then boil them in water (salted), i do the same with carrots, adding them to potatoes half way through. takes few minutes, salad looks much more presentable, and almost no waiting time. i also add shredded mortadella and 1 shredded green apple. oh, and potato!! sorry there will be only 2 potatoes and 1 carrot, half a can pickles, 4 eggs, 150 grm mortadella small onion finely chopped 1 small apple 1 can sweet green peas, dill, mayo, salt and black pepper, that’s it. Oh,my, i do really care! Love this salad, love potato salad, too. Love your other recipes. cheers

  108. Hey,
    my wife’s Russian Israeli she always adds come cumin with the seasoning. Some Russians also add saussage too, not sure what kind though.
    S

  109. I had this potato salad and it was made with all your ingredients and the addition of cooked beets; it was from the former Yugoslavia. The tastes were terrific and the addition of beets made it a standout in flavor and color! I’ve made it since and have always used beets (a personal favorite of mine). I can’t make it for my husband because he doesn’t like potato salad, which to me is a genetic defect.

  110. Have you read Anya von Bremzen’s /Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking/ yet? It’s a lovely lovely work, and the Salat Olivir features throughout. So glad to see there’s a SK version :)

    1. Kaitlin — I bought it (so excited) but haven’t even had a chance to crack it open yet. My loss. I’d like to tackle her cabbage piroshkis soon. Have you made anything?

  111. Deb – I haven’t made anything yet, but I think Salad Olivier will be the first. I’m coming at it as a food historian, so it was less about recipes and more about the storytelling for me. (Dare I say that.)

  112. minus the onions and pickles, this is the beloved Russian Salad that’s a staple on every festive table in Italy, so much that you can easily find a ready-diced potato-pea-carrot frozen mix ready for a quick boil. Sometimes some canned tuna finds its way into it, while adding hb eggs is not traditional but I love it. You can buy the salad quite cheaply from any deli (including those supermarket counters) where it comes most of the time glistening with jelly, I guess to keep the mayo from drying out; but if you sample a forkful made with homemade mayo, you won’t be able to eat any other kind.

    I’ve also read somewhere that in Russia this (=the Italian traditional recipe) is called Italian Salad, but I might remember it wrong :)

  113. This recipe made my day. It’s almost identical the potato salad my (Polish Jewish) grandma always made me in Tel Aviv. Hers was the same except without onion, so I left out onion when I made it just now (even though I think it would have made it better — but I wanted the taste memory.) I used Yukon Golds so they’d break down a little less in the stirring, and it came out perfect.

  114. This is the exact same recipe my mother (who came here from Moscow in her late 20’s) always makes and taught me. Except we always use boiled carrots instead of canned. It is definitely the best recipe but my only suggestion would be for those who want to lighten this up is to have a more even ratio of potato to other ingredients. It makes it crunchier and less potato heavy so not as dense. Also, we have added fresh cucumber when it felt like there wasn’t enough pickle and it added a nice crunch and lightness. Just a thought for those that want to experiment with ratio.

  115. this Olivier is missing bologna sausage or turkey. Never use canned carrots – boil, peel and dice just like potatoes. And using frozen peas makes all the difference. It’s one of my favorite salads and it’s a staple at our New Year’s Eve table.

  116. I have *never* seen a recipe for this before, and in fact, didn’t realize it was a special dish with a unique name until today. I always assumed this was just “potato salad the way my mom makes it”!!

    My parents are Slovak, and we have made this dish hundreds of times – for parties, for every single Christmas, Easter, etc. I love it. And of course, we have our own variations. I use sweet pickles, boil and chop my own carrots, always use canned peas, always meatless and one my favorite techniques – she would dice up a white onion finely, and then boil it briefly in he leftover pickle juice. This would mellow the onion’s bite and add a bit of sweet sourness. Also, our dressing was doctored up – mayo, sour cream, paprika, mustard, sometimes a little sugar. I love this dish and am so incredibly surprised and pleased to find a recipe on your site!!

  117. Hi :) my Polish mom made it frequently as “vegetable salad”. I never knew the similiar one is also russian, iranian, persian……and it has a name Olivier :) All Polish familes had their “own” version of it. I bring it on to US gatherings and it is always voted the best:) Using canned carrots is a no-no, and always yellow onions choped down to tiny pieces. In polish version potatos are always cooked with their skins on (same goes for carrots) than cooled and sins removed. It makes carrots keep “more” color. Additionally cooked parsnip and cooked celery root were present. Some Poles add canned sweet corn. I would always add apple, homemade dill pickles (skins removed before chopping), bit of yellow mustard, plenty of ground black pepper, a real mayo….

  118. Wow, to see this salad on an American website! So cool! I’m Bulgarian and we have adopted the Salad Olivier as our very own (only we call it Russian salad). It is served on every Bulgarian family’s New Year feast table. Thank you for this version of the recipe. I’m wondering what the original recipe looked like, the one that chef Olivier served to the Russian royal family. We, Bulgarians, add one finely diced apple, diced salami and a tiny bit of finely chopped celery leaves. Yum!

  119. I skimmed through all the comments and am so excited that I have something to add to the conversation: how to get your potatoes just right. Here is the trick to getting perfect, slightly waxy, and not at all mushy potatoes for your salad: you boil them until they are not quite tender, and just when you think they need a another minute, you take the pot off the stove and let the potatoes and the hot water cool together. Just leave it there on the stove and do other stuff. When you dice them, they will not fall apart on your cutting board or become part of the dressing. Thank you everyone who has pointed out the varieties of this salad – I invited a Russian friend over for a birthday dinner and I’m hoping I can get his favourites right!

  120. I’ve had this twice from different eastern-european restaurants, and didn’t really care much for either version. I could probably make one that appealed to me more, tweaking with amounts and such, but I’m really more curious about the actual, original Olivier Salad (containing grouse, veal tongue, caviar, lettuce, crayfish tails, capers, and smoked duck). Of course no one knows how to make it exactly, but I’m not sure a gourmet version is even attempted anywhere.