- Zoya B.
Russian summer salad
Americans often think about Russian food as hearty winter fare. Meaty beet borsch stew, stuffed cabbage, potatoes, meat pies, and dumplings. And yes, all these foods are very Russian. But Russian food is also quite seasonal, and there is a whole extra world of fresh, cold, produce-heavy dishes that are eaten every day in the summer, as you don't know when the next time you have a fresh cucumber will be! During the days of the Soviet Union, it was incredible difficult for anyone but the wealthy and connected to get fresh produce (or even canned or frozen alternatives), so many people grew lush seasonal gardens to get their veggie fix and make pickles for the remainder of the year, much the way that people grew and ate in Russia prior to industrialization. The Russian word for this basic salad, mizeria, literally means misery because it was peasant food at its most basic iteration. I am calling it Russian summer salad, as it is a far more appealing name.
Remember too that Russia is a huge country, and the Soviet Union was larger still. The more temperate climates of the Balkans and Central Asia include more fresh produce year-round than you would see in, say, Siberian food.
Though I am lucky enough to live in a world where I can get tomatoes and fresh herbs from the supermarket any day of the year, I certainly eat more cold salads in the summer, using fresh herbs and produce from my garden or local farms.
I like to use Korean cucumbers here because they are nice and crunchy with an edible skin, but any cocktail cucumber or pickling cucumber will work. I use small red radishes, but small heirloom varieties are even better. Avoid daikon and other large radishes as the flavor is too strong. You can make a lighter, pareve/vegan version of this salad by replacing the smetana with a dressing of equal parts unfiltered sunflower oil and lemon juice.
2 cups cucumber, sliced
1 cup sliced radishes, sliced
1 cup sliced tomato
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
2 tbsp scallions/green onion, chopped
1/3 cup fresh chopped dill
1/3-1/2 cup smetana (you can substitute creme fraiche, crema, sour cream, or even full fat Greek yogurt)
1/2 tsp unfiltered sunflower oil
pinch of nutmeg
Mix the cucumber and red onion together in a salad bowl and massage with a few pinches of salt. This will bring out the juiced and temper bitterness from the onion. I like to prepare the rest of the ingredients while the cucumbers and onion sit in the salt.
Add the radishes, garlic, green onion, dill, and tomato to the bowl. Toss everything together so the vegetables are evenly distributed.
Slowly incorporate the smetana into the salad. You want everything to be coated with it. It will become more watery as it mixes with the tomato and cucumber juices. How much you add is really a matter of taste.
Taste the salad. If it needs more salt, add some.
Garnish with a drizzle of the sunflower oil and pinch of nutmeg