Russian Salad the Dutch way

And an even Dutchier extra: Herring Salad

New Year's Eve SaladI suppose Russian Salad is a popular dish all over the world, but I wonder whether it is as connected with festive holidays as in the Netherlands, where it is called Hussar's Salad ('Huzarensalade'). It is a traditional dish on New Year's Eve, presented as a clock with the hands pointing at twelve o'clock. And in my family it is also a traditional dish at Saint Nicholas' Eve (Sinterklaas, 5 December). Then the salad represents a 'Zwarte Piet' (Black Peter), the bishop's helper who climbs up and down chimneys (hence his blackness) to see if the children have been good, and to deliver presents. Where I grew up, we had no hearth, just central heating. So we sang our songs near the convection radiator, secretely wondering how Black Peter was going to deliver the presents through those thin pipes. Below you can see a 'Black Peter Salad', which is not black by the way, because no one eats a black salad.

This recipe dates from my youth, sixties and seventies of the last century. The ingredients reflect this: canned vegetables and meat. I still make it that way, out of nostalgia. This salad is easy to prepare in large quantities, exactly right for parties. You have to prepare it at least a few hours in advance to improve the taste. That way you'll have at least one dish that can be prepared the morning or even the day before the party. If you want to know about the historical Russian Salad, look at this Wikipedia article. It seems that originally the Russian Salad and Hussar's Salad have different origins, but in 'low cuisine' there's hardly any difference.

Ingredients for the salad
600 gram (4 cups) boiled waxy potatoes, lukewarm to cold
3 hard boiled eggs
1 small can spam (yes, really), diced, or 200 gram (1 large, thick slice) cooked ham, or some leftover meat from making stock
1 tart apple (Granny Smith), unpeeled, diced
100 gram (2/3 cup) pickled cocktail onions, drained
1/2 onion, finely chopped
100 gram (2/3 cup) pickled gherkins, drained
1 small can (400 gram) Mixed Vegetables or Macédoine de legumes
tomato ketchup
ordinary vinegar and a neutral tasting oil (not olive oil)
1 cup mayonnaise
pepper, salt

1 cup mayonnaise
whatever else you need (see below)

Preparation in advance
Make the salad at least six hours in advance. Dice everything that isn't diced already, into cubes of about 5x5 mm, chop cocktail onions and gherkins smaller. Mix everything in a large bowl and refrigerate until you want to garnish the salad. Do not chop everything too small, the ingredients have to be recognizable as separate entities.
If you have the time and inclination, you can make your own mayonnaise and prepare fresh macédoine (dice and cook al dente the vegetables mentioned in the description of Macédoine below). Some Dutch version use red beets in this salad, but to me this should only be used in herring salad.
Someone asked me why there are no amounts given for the ketchup, mustard, vinegar and oil. I left these out deliberately, because how much you want to use depends on the 'solid' ingredients you've used. One apple is less tart than another, the gherkins and cocktail onions can be more or less crunchy and vary in taste, and ketchup and mustard exist in many varieties. If I write down the perfect amounts for my salad, that doesn't mean they are perfect for your salad. Even for me the amounts change each time. The best way to go is: first mix everything from the column on the left. Then add mayonnaise, to bind them all together."Continue like I do: add a little ketchup, mustard, oil and vinegar and taste, and add a little more of this or that until the taste is to your satisfaction. Whatever you do, try NOT to add any sugar. Sugar (or artificial sweeteners) is often used in mass produced salads to cover up the lack of real taste, and the poor public has grown used to tasting sugar in everything.

When the moment has come to decorate the salad, take it out of the refrigerator. Taste it, to see if it needs any extra salt, pepper, mustard, ketchup or vinegar.

To serve
The lazy wayy is to just scoop the salad in a bowl without extra garnish. In the beginning of the twentieth century the salad was often served on scallop shells as hors d'oeuvre. Leftovers keep for several days in the refrigerator.

Whatever you choose, the first thing to do is shaping the salad. I use a springform to make a round salad with a flat top. Arrange the salad on a dish, on top of some lettuce if you wish (rather clichéd). Now cover the salad with a thin layer of mayonnaise, using a palette knife, to get a more or less smooth surface. You can mix the mayonnaise with ketchup for a little colour, or even use food colouring. However, people do not like to eat savoury food with unnatural colours (sweets are another matter entirely), chances are you'll be left with a lot of salad.

Saint Nicholas and Black Peter in 1928This 'Black Peter Salad' from 1998 is one of many I prepared for December 5thIf you want to decorate your salad as Zwarte Piet (Black Peter, only white because nobody eats black salad) you use a large round flat dish. Put a layer of curly lettuce or endives on the rim for one third of of the circle, arrange the salad in the center. The green leaves are now a frilly ruff. Cover the salad with a thin layer of mayonnaise, as described above, to make the 'face' on. The eyes are slices of hard boiled egg or cucumber with slices of gherkin or a dollop of ketchup as irises. The nose is the end of a cucumber or carrot. The lips are drawn with tomato ketchup. Cocktail onions can be used to decorate the 'ruff' with 'pearls'. Use two rings of yellow bell pepper as earrings, and make a cap from more endive leaves, or cucmber slices, decorated with halved cherry tomatoes. A Black peter also has a feather on its cap, this can be made with dill.

To make a New Year's Eve Salad like on the picture at the top of this page, is very simple. The two hands are cut from strips of cucumber or bell pepper, the hours are put on twelve halved egg yolks. It is easiest to use Roman ciphers (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII), unless of course you have a small cookie cutter for ciphers. Very symbolic is making two dishes: one Russian Salad made up as an old man representing the old year, and a sweet cake coverd in pink marzipan decorated as a baby face to represent the new year (to be eaten with the champagne).

Important: whatever decorations you use, they have to be edible and harmonize with the taste of the salad.

Extra recipe: Herring salad Print the recipe
The Dutch are famous for eating 'Dutch new' or 'matjes' herring, which is essentially still raw. Tourists stare with fascinated abhorrence at those strange people that let this fish slide into their throats with extactic expressions on their face. But why would this be any less tasty and tastefull than eating Japanese sashimi? And the herring is not even completely raw, but gibbed and salted. The proces of gibbing (removing the gills and part of the gullet, but leaving liver and pancreas) was 'invented' in the fourteenth century by a Dutch fisherman, Willem Beuckelszoon.

This herring salad is made with matjes gerring, which is probably not easily available outside of the Netherlands. Wikipedia states that New Dutch herring is tyhe same as soused herring, but since German 'Rolmops' (rolled up, pickled herring) also seems to be called 'soused', I wonder whether that is correct. Rolmops is NOT an alternative for New Dutch. I have found an online store in the UK that sells 'matjes herring', but looking at the ingredients (vegetable oil? sugar??) I very much doubt this is the real thing. However, maybe it is an alternative. If you have other suggestions, please let me know!

The basis of the salad is boiled potatoes, just like Hussar's Salad. Because its taste is more pronounced than that of Hussar's salad, it is wise not to make too much of it if you're not familiar with your guests' tastes. And because of the fish, this salad can be kept at most a day.

Ingredients for a small salad
250 gram (1 3/4 cup) boiled waxy potatoes, lukewarm to cold
2 herrings (matjes herring)
2 cooked small red beets (peeled)
1 tart apple (Granny Smith), unpeeled
chopped cocktail onions and pickled gherkins to taste
oil, vinegar, mayonnaise, pepper, salt

1/2 herring cut in long strips
red beet, egg whites and yolks fom hard boiled eggs (apart), pickled gherkins (everything chopped fine separately)

Herring SaladPreparation in advance
Dice all ingredients for the salad in about 5x5 mm cubes, chop onions and gherkins smaller. Make a vinaigrette by mixing oil, vinegar, mayonnaise, pepper and salt (together about 1/2 cup) and pour over the salad. Mix well. Place the salad in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Preparation in advance
After one hour, taste to see if the salad needs adjustments. The taste should be slightly acidic.

This needs a little work. Chop red beets, egg whites and yolks, and gherkins in small pieces.
Arrange the salad on a dish. Form a lozenge-shaped pattern with the herring strips on the salad, fill the spaces with the chopped ingredients, making a colourful mosaic.

All descriptions of ingredients

Macédoine - The name is French, but it refers to Macedonia (ancient Greece). Originally that was a mass of small kingdoms that were finally united under Phillipos II and his son Alexander the Great in the fourth century bC. Since late in the eighteenth century one used the name macédoine for a cold mixed dish of fruit (in sugar syrup) or of boiled vegetables, the small pieces of diverse fruit or vegetables representing the manifold kingdomes of ancient Macedonia. Nowadays you can buy macédoine of fruit and of vegetables in supermarkets, canned or in glass jars. But you can's just pick any can of 'mixed vegetables'. Officially, Macédoine must contain at least four different vegetables (peas, carrots, turnips, potatoes, stringless beans, celery, white beans). So there is no sweet corn or kidney bean in Macédoine. According to my Larousse, the vegetables are to be diced in 4x4 mm cubes exactly.
Red beet - Causes urine to colour red after eating. No need to be alarmed, it's just 'superfluous beet red' leaving the body.

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