The Russian Connection
I first came across the Russian salad a month before my wedding.
Having been a kiwi for the past nine years, I was adamant on having a salad on my engagement menu as I felt it would compliment the food we had planned. The in-laws felt it would be a waste given the obvious Bawa dislike of ghaas-phoos.
Trying to keep everyone happy, my caterer, said he'd do a twist on the Russian salad, a chicken pineapple salad that everyone would love. Hearing the word salad, I nodded happily. Only to discover, that the Parsi Russian salad is less of a Russian Olivier salad, and more of an invention where the primary objective is to drench any vegetable or meat in mayonnaise or white sauce so that there is no green in sight.
Don't get me wrong, the salad was simple delicious as all things drenched in mayonnaise are. But, calling it a salad was perhaps quite a stretch of imagination given that even the vegetarian version of the salad comes sans greens and is made of a variety of root vegetables like potato, pumpkin and carrot.
Not long after, when I started the Bawi Bride blog, a reader wrote in wondering if I knew about the Chicken Russian Pattice. She shared that it was a starter that used to be served in copious amounts at Parsi weddings back in the day, but has now been relegated to the has-been list thanks to the hostile Sev-Puri takeover. I did my research and found the pattice was in a similar vein to the ubiquitous Russian salad. It featured shredded chicken, cheese and potato blended together with a creamy bechamel and formed into small deep fried pattice. The pattice were such a hit that they became a regular fixture on our menu.
But, despite my now being suitably acquainted with the Russian salad and the Russian pattice, one question continued to plague me. After all, what was the Russian connection?
The mystery was revealed a few months later when I had a pop-up at my place with a few bloggers and my former caterer. Turns out that they were named thus because of their white colouring, which is very similar to the 'Gora' Russians. Racist as it may seem in our now overly political-correct generation, the name actually makes sense to the Bawi in me and is a perfectly logical explanation!
Recipe for Vegetarian Russian Salad (serves 6)
2 big potatoes
500 gms pumpkin, peeled
2 big carrots
200 gm French beans or green peas (optional)
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp black pepper
7 - 8 tbsp mayonnaise
Salt to taste
1. Chop the potatoes, pumpkin and carrots into even 1 cm cubes.
2. If using French beans, slice them diagonally.
3. Boil a pan of water and boil the vegetables. Remember to place the pumpkin and potatoes to boil 5-7 mins prior to the other ingredients as they take longer to cook through.
4. Once the vegetables are cooked, strain the hot water and immediately dunk them in a bowl of ice cold water so that they retain their colour. Strain after 5 minutes.
5. Mix everything thoroughly and dress the salad with the mayonnaise, oregano, salt and pepper. Make sure that the vegetables are fully coated with the mayo and don't hesitate to add some more mayo if they aren't.
6. Put the mixture into the refrigerator and serve cold along with a plate of Parsi cutlets or even better, some Chicken Russian Pattice.
Bawi by birth and foodie by life, Perzen Patel is Mumbai's Bawi Bride. While she didn't know how to cook even a simple Parsi Dhandar until she got married, Perzen is now on a mission to spread happiness through Dhansak. When she is not writing, Perzen runs a full-fledged Parsi catering service, organises food experiences and also offers cooking classes.
Follow Perzen on Twitter @BawiBride