Russian cuisine – salad “Vinegret”

Have you sent a good bye kiss to summer yet? September is my favorite month, even though it’s a little bit sad to see that the first signs of autumn are coming.  For some reason summer is the quickest season to fly away. I’ve never heard somebody say: “Man, winter was so short this year! I’ll miss it so much!” Oh well, I’m looking forward to enjoying the beautiful foliage colors of the Utah canyons from my window soon.

Recently my son came back from his two month Russian vacation, and you know what the first thing he said was: “Mom, I really missed YOUR Russian food”.  Hmm… that was strange to hear, but I understand his point.  Honestly, real homemade Russian cuisine often is quite a time consuming process and Anton’s dad wasn’t probably in the mood to create any culinary masterpieces by spending a couple hours in the kitchen.  That’s why I went ahead and prepared  Vinegret, Anton’s third favorite dish, a recipe of which I wanted to share with you today.“Yuck…Beet’s salad?” Some of you are turned off, I predict.  But believe me, if even Anton enjoys it (he is the pickiest eater I’ve ever seen, plus, he’s not a vegetables liker at all) you should give it a try.

Traditionally, I would like to spice the recipe by telling you the history of its creation, and specifically, the history of beetroot…By the way, did you know that beetroot was offered to Apollo in his temple at Delphi, where it was reckoned to be worth its own weight in silver?  Amazing!  The Romans began to cultivate it in earnest, and early recipes included cooking it with honey and wine. Apicius, the renowned Roman gourmet, included beetroot in recipes for broths and even recommended making it into a salad with a dressing of mustard, oil and vinegar in his book ‘The Art of Cooking’.

As to Russian cuisine, historians claim that the name “Vinegret” appeared during the reign of Alexander I (1877-1825).  The famous French chef Antoine Careme, who worked in the czar’s kitchen once observed the work of Russian chefs and seemed curious, looking at them preparing this peculiar salad.   To finished the dish  Russian chefs poured vinegar, and Careme exclaimed in surprise, pointing to the salad: “Vinaigrette?”, which means “vinegar” in french.  Russian chefs thought he said the name of the dish, and nodded their heads in accordance: “Yes, yes, Vinegret salad”…  So this day a new name of the dish appeared in the royal menu.  Later, it was simplified beyond recognition, and it soon became a classic vegetarian salad though sometimes they add smoked salmon or salted hearing to Vinegret.

So, hope this introduction boiled your interest enough to try the recipe, here it is.

•    2 medium beets, washed, but not peeled
•    2 medium red-skinned potatoes (also about 3 inches in diameter), washed, but not peeled
•    1 large carrot, washed, but not peeled
•    1 large yellow onion, finely diced
•    2 large pickles, finely diced  (if you don’t like pickles, as my son, you can exchange it with a salted/smoked salmon, about 3-4 oz)
•    2 cups peas
•    1/3 cup olive oil
•    Salt and black pepper to taste

Place beets, potatoes, and carrot into a large pot, cover with cold water seasoned with salt, cover with a lid, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially uncover, simmer until vegetables are tender, but not mushy. After the water boils, the carrot takes 20-30 minutes, potatoes take 30-40 minutes, and the beets take about an hour. Note that the beets never get as tender as potatoes, so if a knife pierces them easily, they are done.
Cool and peel the beets, potatoes, and carrot. Their skin will slide off quite easily, so you don’t need a peeler. Use a paring knife for potatoes and carrot, and rub the beets with your hands to get the skin to slip off.
Cut all boiled vegetables into small, diced pieces and mix with diced onions, pickles (or salmon), and peas.
Dress the salad with olive oil,  add salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Let the salad sit in the fridge overnight or at least for several hours to allow flavors to blend.
Hope to hear about your experience cooking Vinegret and maybe even sharing it with your Russian woman.

Bon appétit! 🙂

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