There is a Russian potato salad called Olivye that is the single most commonly found food on any Russian celebration table. I am willing to bet there is not one living person of Russian or Ukrainian origin that can’t name all the ingredients that go into this salad. They are: boiled potatoes and carrots, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, canned peas, and sometimes kielbasa or poached chicken. Everything is finely chopped into about quarter-inch cubes and dressed generously with mayo – the Russian answer to basically any kitchen conundrum.
Salat Olivye (the name originates from the French “Olivier”) is what my dad calls “poverty food” – by which he means taking what few fresh vegetables you have (potatoes and carrots), stretching them by adding jarred pickles and canned peas, and bulking up the calorie count with rich, store-bought mayo. Kinda heartbreaking, isn’t it?
All the Russian-Americans I personally know still consume this dish regularly – albeit not homemade. Olivye is sold at any Russian store deli counter in South Brooklyn; you’d probably find at least ten different versions on Brighton Beach alone. In fact, when we first arrived in America in 2000, my dad’s brother – who had already been living in America for over a decade – was kind enough to stock our new fridge for when we got home from the airport. A container of Olivye was front and center. It was jarring to know that Olivye could be bought by the quart, or even many quarts. Pre-made food or take-out was simply not a thing in Ukraine, and I remember that when I first spotted that container in our Brooklyn fridge, I felt as though we’d already made it in America.
Olivye is the only potato salad I knew for the first half of my life.
Fast forward to my early teen years when I discovered the Food Network. One fine day, I watched Ina make a potato salad for one of her faaabulous Hamptons get-togethers. She used young potatoes instead of russets, and dressed them lightly with herbs, mustard, oil and vinegar – and that’s it. “That’s weird,” I thought, “where’s the rest of it?” My child brain literally couldn’t fathom the existence of a mayo-less potato salad, much less how anyone could enjoy something so blah. (It must have been this recipe).
Now fast forward again to my slightly more grown-up self and I can proudly say I’ve learned to appreciate, and even prefer, a more sophisticated potato salad that isn’t drowning in white goo. As we approach the summer months, I figured now is the perfect time to share this purple potato salad recipe, since it travels really well for beach picnics, backyard cookouts, or even just #notsaddesklunch. I just love how all the different flavors and textures work together in this dish: creamy potatoes, crunchy green beans, and slightly bitter endive dressed in a citrusy vinaigrette, and finished with grassy dill. What takes this salad from side dish to meal territory is the addition of protein- and fiber-rich lentils. But not just any old lentils! These are cooked in red wine – my absolute favorite way of preparing them. If you can’t find purple potatoes, the recipe will work just as well with white or red ones. Feel free to use asparagus instead of the green beans if you prefer.
- ½ cup French green lentils, picked through for stones and rinsed
- ¼ cup dry red wine
- 1 small garlic clove, halved lengthwise
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- Sea salt
- 1 pound small young purple potatoes
- 5 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
- 2 heads Belgian endive, thinly sliced
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped dill, to garnish
- 1 small shallot, finely diced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- Start with the lentils. In a medium pot, combine the lentils, wine, garlic, thyme, and 1 cup water. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook with the lid ajar for 20-30 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through but still retain their shape, adding more water if the lentils begin to dry out. Strain the lentils if there is liquid left over. Stir in ¼ teaspoon of salt, or to taste.
- Meanwhile, cut the bigger potatoes in half and leave the smaller ones whole. Place the potatoes into a separate pot and add enough water to cover by about 2 inches. Season with a generous pinch of salt, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer with the lid ajar until the potatoes are just fork-tender, about 12 minutes. Add the green beans and simmer for another minute. Drain and return the vegetables to the pot. Let cool for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the shallot, lemon juice, oil, mustard, salt, and pepper.
- In a large bowl, gently toss the lentils, warm vegetables, endive, black pepper, and dressing together. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Transfer the salad to a platter and garnish with dill. May be served warm or at room temperature.