Although sałatka jarzynowa (Eng: vegetable salad) often appears on Polish tables daily, many see it as a staple during family parties and holiday dinners – especially Christmas and Easter. What is it exactly and what is its origin?
Sałatka jarzynowa is a medley of cooked vegetables (carrots, parsley, celery, potatoes) with hardboiled eggs, green peas, apples, and pickled cucumbers. All of those ingredients are bound with a solid splash of mayonnaise and a bit of mustard. The spices are very basic and usually include solely salt and pepper. All of this makes it a perfect accompaniment to festive dishes.
Other names frequently used to refer to this dish include sałatka majonezowa (mayo salad), and biała sałatka (white salad).
The adoration that the Polish people express in regard to this simple salad could mean that we are the ones responsible for its creation. After all, there’s nothing more Polish than drowning vegetables in mayo, right? Well, I am sorry to disappoint my countrymen; The claim couldn’t have been more wrong.
As some sources suggest, sałatka jarzynowa could have been inspired by the 18th-century French salad called macédoine: a mix of vegetables and fruits cut into even pieces. After it was enriched with other vegetables, such as turnips, potatoes, or cauliflower, it allegedly traveled to Poland where it was further altered into what we know now.
Others claim that it was a cook working at the court of the Italian Savoia dynasty who prepared this dish for the first time. The occasion? The arrival of the Russian tsar to the court! The ingredients were supposed to resemble those often used in Russian cuisine. After the visit, the tzar took the recipe to Russia where it became widely popular.
Yet another story connected with the creation of this salad names Bona Sforza the person who commanded the Polish cooks to serve the cooked vegetables cold. This story is not only simple but also probable since the queen famously brought us a mix of vegetables called włoszczyzna (the Italian vegetables) to this day: carrots, parsley root, celery, and leek leaves. Who knows, maybe we should also be thanking her for the vegetable salad?
The most popular theory
The last one is probably the most popular as well as the most probable of all the stories. In this one, the vegetable salad is said to be an accidental invention associated with Lucien Oliver, a Moscow chef of Belgian or French origin. In his restaurant, he prepared all sorts of dishes for various banquets attended by heads of state and the members of the elite.
For one of such parties, he prepared pieces of quail and partridge breast together with shrimp tails under a quilt of gelatin and mayonnaise adorned on top with eggs, truffles, canned vegetables, and boiled potatoes. Quite an elaborate snack, don’t you think? As you probably have guessed by now, one of the guests carelessly mixed all of the ingredients with no regard for the chef’s mastery. This is how the vegetable salad came to be. And that’s probably why people in Russia call it the Olivier salad.
At the end of the 19th century, forced to emigrate by the political situation Russian aristocrats spread the dish to other European countries. In the meantime, the composition of the salad underwent various modifications. The cheaper ingredients replaced the more expensive and posh ones. Nowadays, this salad can be found under various names in many European counties. Some of the names may refer to the qualities of the salad itself (like in Poland), others to its supposed origin. Apart from Poland, you may encounter it in Italy, Spain, Greece, or Iran.
The only thing we know for sure is that what happened was, and remains, obscure and contestable.
Recipe for the traditional version
There is no perfect recipe for it, as everyone makes it according to their taste. Therefore, treat the recipe below as a set of tips, not rules.
- 1 can of peas
- 4 hard-boiled eggs
- 3 carrots
- 2 parsnip roots
- 1 small celery
- 3-4 pickled cucumbers
- 1 big sour apple
- 2-3 potatoes
- 1 onion
- 4 tbsp of mayonnaise
- 1 tsp of mustard
- salt and pepper
- Boil carrots, parsley, celery, and potatoes in their skins in salted water until soft, but so that they do not fall apart easily. Then, set them aside to cool and peel.
- Cut the cooked vegetables into small cubes. However, be careful as the pieces should be large enough so that they do not turn into mush after mixing.
- Drain cucumbers from juice and peel the apples. Cut both into cubes. In the meantime, boil the eggs in a pot.
- Slice the eggs, also not too finely. Chop the leek finely. Mix the ingredients and add the drained peas.
- Add salt and pepper and stir in the mustard and mayonnaise (add slowly so as not to “drown” the ingredients).
- Put the salad in the refrigerator to let the flavors combine. Taste before serving to check whether there’s enough salt and pepper.