Our Food Adventures in Chicago

Russian Vinaigrette Salad

In home cooking on February 10, 2013 at 3:58 am

Tonight I had some free time and I thought I’d take the opportunity to make a Russian Vinaigrette Salad. It’s like the Russian version of a potato salad. But with beets. I figured this would be a quick and easy thing to make – I mean… how long could it take to boil a bunch of vegetables, dice them up and mix them together…. right? In the end I spent about three and a half hours on it, so lesson learned.

potatoes and carrots

Of course, like many Russian dishes, this starts with potatoes and carrots. The idea is to boil them, peel them, cube them and eventually mix them together with the rest of the ingredients. We only had 4 carrots so although I thought that might not be enough, I went with what I had.

This is also when I realized that I don’t really know what the ratios of ingredients should be. The thing is, I just had one beet. One huge beet. Easily the size of two regular beets. So it seemed like I had a lot of beet to work with, but not a lot of carrot. I did have a whole bag of potatoes, so I kind of had to guess at how many potatoes go with a lot of beet and not a lot of carrot. I guessed four.

Anyway, so the other thing is that I had never boiled beets before and didn’t really know how long it takes. But given that this was a huge beet, it was pretty certain that it would take much longer to cook than the other stuff. So in it went.

beet boiling

I don’t know if you can tell how huge this beet is from this photo. It’s hard to show the scale of it. But this is the largest pot we have and I couldn’t even cover the beet with water. I figured I would have to turn it several times throughout the process so that it cooks all the way through and on all sides. I let it boil for 20 minutes before letting its friends into the pool.

vegetables boiling

After about 20 minutes I added the carrots and potatoes. I had another pot ready in case they didn’t fit, but they did. It’s a pretty large pot. This was also a good opportunity to turn the beet and let the top part get submerged in the water for a while. You could see the skin is starting to peel, which to me was a good sign because I wasn’t sure this thing was actually going to cook. Beets are pretty dense. Another cool thing was that the water had turned beet colored. I thought that maybe the potatoes and carrots would acquire some of that sweet beet taste and color while they were boiling in there. They didn’t, though.

While that stuff boiled, I started getting the other things ready. I diced up an onion and got out some peas. We hardly had any peas and I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be enough. But again, I didn’t know what the ratios were supposed to be like anyway and it’s not like I was going to go to the store for a few more peas. Meanwhile, the onion seemed like a bit too much. I ended up being right about that and only used about a third of it.

peas

After about 10 minutes, the carrots and potatoes still seemed a bit hard so I left them in there for a while longer. This salad is all about soft cubes of stuff. We’re not really going for crispy carrots. They have to be soft, but not so soft that they just turn to mush, obviously. I’m not especially experienced with boiling carrots and potatoes and getting the timing just right so that they’re at the perfect balance of softness and not mushiness. But I poked them and they seemed hard so that was that.

While I was washing and boiling and dicing and poking and all that, Twixie was getting suspicious. I don’t think she had ever even seen a beet and this was an intimidating one. Plus, I’m rarely seen cooking and dicing at one in the morning so who knows what she was thinking was going on.

twixie

Eventually the carrots and potatoes were cooked and I took them out. I stuck the beet with a knife and it was still hard inside so I left it in there for yet longer. I was starting to think this thing was too dense and would never get cooked. Or the outside would turn to mush before the inside is ready. But what could I do? I figured I’d leave it in for a while longer and if the middle still hadn’t cooked I would just cut around it. It was getting late and I didn’t have time to wait around for this giant beet to do its thing.

Meanwhile, it was time to dice up the carrots and potatoes. I had read that they should cool for at least 2 hours or even be left overnight before dicing. But who has time for that, right? I got to it right away.

This turned out to be kind of a mistake because if you’ve ever tried peeling a warm, soft carrot, you know what I’m talking about. I put the rest of them in the freezer to cool off while I worked on the first carrot. It wasn’t pretty but I wasn’t about to wait another two hours while these guys got themselves ready to get peeled.

I got them done one by one, taking each next one out only when I was ready for it. Peeling the carrots definitely got easier as they cooled off more. The potatoes, it turned out, were much easier – the skin pretty much peeled off on its own when I pulled on it. Sometime along the way I decided to finally get the beet out of the water before the outer part of it turns to mush. I put it in a bowl and threw it in the freezer too while I diced the other stuff.

potatoes carrots diced

Here they are, all diced up and waiting to be assaulted with beets. The potatoes actually got kind of mushy when I was chopping them and I thought that maybe I had overcooked them. But really I probably just didn’t let them cool enough. I needed them to stay cube shaped instead of getting all mashed potatoey and although I initially thought that might not happen, it more or less worked out. Also it seemed like I had too much potato, so I only used three out of the four.

The only thing left now is the beet. It peeled fairly easily. Like the potatoes, the skin was ready to go. It didn’t peel off as cleanly as the potatoes, but some knife scraping did the trick. Here it is, exposed and bulging with juice.

giant beet

Well as you can guess I diced that thing up pretty good and added it to the other diced things. It wasn’t as messy as I had thought it would be. Gotta be careful with beet juice because it doesn’t wash off fabric easily. I ended up cutting the sides off so that the core is in a cube shape. Just in case the core wasn’t cooked thoroughly enough. I wanted to see the color inside and also I wasn’t sure if this was going to be too much beet for the other ingredients. I used up more of it than I expected and the salad started shaping up to be much bigger than I had thought it would be.

potatoes carrots beets diced

Doesn’t that look nice? The beet really adds some good color to the whole thing.

The end was finally in sight. I added the onions, the peas, some olive oil, salt and pepper. Mixed it all around and voila, the salad was complete! I was glad to finally be done with it because it took a couple hours longer than I had planned and I was hoping to be in bed by that time.

But I had to do a quick taste test, right? Right. So I did. And it tasted… kind of bland. I started adding a little more salt when I realized… I had forgotten the key ingredient! The Vinaigrette Salad is just not complete without dill pickles. I got some out, chopped them up, mixed it all around and finally it was ready.

Russian vinaigrette salad

With all the mixing around, the potatoes and onions take on the beet’s color. In the end it all looks like varying shades of red and pink but with the occasional green of the peas and pickles. This was finally a familiar sight – this is what this salad is supposed to look and taste like. Success!

So there ya go – Russian Vinaigrette Salad.

-a

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