Potatoes and carrots were boiling, the peas were draining and knives were chopping away; my mom and grandmother were preparing for another holiday and the staple dish was in preparation…olivye. A Russian party without olivye is like dinner without dessert; or Thanksgiving without turkey…it’s just not enough, something is missing. Because of this my mother and grandmother slaved away in the kitchen, using their dull knives to cut perfect cubes of potatoes and carrots, ensuring that each piece was carefully covered in mayonnaise. Each time the salad was exactly the same, perfectly cubed, perfectly seasoned and left everyone asking for more. Everyone loved my mother’s olivye…but let’s be honest everyone loves their mother’s olivye and each mother’s olivye is different. My mother always used chicken in her olivye, other mothers used a Russian Bolgna. Every woman puts her own spin on olivye and in their eyes THAT is the only way to make olivye. Everyone is extremely particular about their olivye.
The truth is there is not only one way to make olivye. There are hundreds of different combinations! The first olivye was made by Chef Lucien Olivier in the 1960’s in his Parisian Style restaurant, Hermitage in Moscow. His Parisian version of the recipe was not at all what we know it as today. It was an intricate combination of gourmet ingredients like black caviar, wild bird game, capers, crayfish and other delicatessens that married together in a jellied mold, similar to holodets. Garnishing that mold were little sour-sweet pickles known as gherkins, a hard-boiled egg and a beautifully carved potato. These perfect marriages of flavors were to be enjoyed slowly, savoring each bite. Instead, the chef noticed that his Russian customers would mix everything together and turn it into a gray blob that was later lifted into their mouths with a spoon. He could not understand their need to mix everything together like a child mixed their finger paints. Regardless of the customer’s requests, Chef Lucien never changed his recipe and never told anyone exactly what was in it. He took it to his grave with him forever stealing away the original recipe.
After his death, his sous chef attempted to recreate the salad. It deemed to be nearly impossible to acquire the lavish ingredients as people grew poorer. The chef knew he had to change the dish to fill his customer’s grumbling bellies without emptying all their pockets. So the chef changed the recipe a bit by omitting the caviar, adding in more potatoes, eggs and marinated pickles. He exchanged the expensive imported capers for affordable cans of green peas and swapped out the wild game for bolgna. The carrot was added for a bit of color. He finished it off with mayonnaise and a bit of sour cream and made what we know as salat Olivier today.
Many mothers and grandmothers make this salad this way to this day. While I am a believer of living within tradition and keeping our ancestor’s recipes alive, I also believe that my waist line should remain the same size before and after dinner. Unfortunately, the amount of mayonnaise and sausage in this salad would scare my jeans right off of me! So in an effort to remain a true Russian I wanted to salat Olivier that could be enjoyed by everyone…and almost guilt free. I replaced the heavy mayonnaise with a much lighter and healthier ingredient: Fat free Greek yogurt. Most people do not know how similar Greek Yogurt can be to mayonnaise in recipes. I have replaced mayo with Greek yogurt in several recipes and my guests never had a clue. Greek yogurt packs a huge protein punch in each serving, it is extremely low in carbohydrates and the fat free version has zero fat. It’ssignificantly thicker than regular yogurt which makes it the perfect binding agent for any salad. This salad brings the comfort from your childhood past and a crisp freshness of the present. It’s perfect with the classic slice of black bread or on crackers. And with less than half the calories there is nothing guilty about it.
Dicing Your Vegetables
1. Slice the pickle/cucumber/potato/apple lengthwise.
2. Next, cut your slices into long matchsticks. And dice! Voila! Perfect dices!
- 5 Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
- 2 Medium Carrots
- 2 Large Potatoes
- ½ Cup Canned Peas
- 6 Marinated Pickles (I used theIsraeli kind, they have the perfect flavor)
- 5 Hard Boiled Eggs
- 1 Large Granny Smith Apple,Peeled, Cored and cut into small dice
- 1 16 Ounce Container Fat Free Greek Yogurt
- ½ Tbsp Dijon Mustard
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Boil potatoes, chicken and carrots in water until fork tender. The chicken will take about 10 minutes once the water comes to aboil. Remove the chicken and cool. (Do not peel the vegetables before cooking them. Cook the vegetables in their peelsso they retain their texture).
- In a separate pot,combine water and whole eggs. Bring to aboil, cover with lid and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Peel and reserve. (With this method you will have perfect hard boiled eggs every time)
- Once the chicken has cooled, shred the chicken with your hands, carefully breaking apart any larger pieces.
- Once all the vegetables are cooked and cooled, carefully dice them. Next dice the hardboiled eggs, the pickles and the apple.
- Carefully combine all your ingredients in a bowl and toss with mustard, seasoning and yogurt. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
- Let stand in refrigerator for at least 6 hours, overnight is best. Serve and enjoy!