Wednesday, September 2, 2009

vinegret – russian beet salad

venigret - russian beet salad

Okay, so clearly, I’ve a bit of a problem sticking with a writing schedule. I’ve been meaning to post this last week. But, you see, I’m becoming a regular at MGH, which isn’t particularly a good thing, and that place just takes the wind out of my sail. I’d like to think a hospital is not the kind of place you want to be recognized, unless you work there.

By now, you are all probably tired of hearing that I had yet another curve ball thrown my way, but that’s kind of what happened. And because I associate food with happiness and pleasant thoughts and joy, it’s difficult to write, never mind conceive of a way to connect this story to your senses, when you are thinking about things ending in “noma” and traipsing around various oncology wings in a hospital. When it rains, it pours. And let me hand it to you, dear 2009, you’re going down in my history as “la deluge”. In fact, I suggest we have an early break-up. You know, where I get to see other years? You haven’t been kind to me and I’m not the kind of woman who takes abuse sitting down.

carrots and potatoes

I won’t beat around the bush. Another family member of mine, this time my other grandmother, and my only remaining grandparent had to show up at the hospital to meet with her oncologist about a breast cancer diagnosis, so I went down to Boston to support her. The bad news is that this was another emotional hit for our family and we all took it pretty hard. But when the dust settled and once we met with the doctor, the good news came out. Short surgery. Self-dissolving stitches. Outpatient procedure. Allowed to shower the following day. In fact, the surgery should take about half an hour and then the extracted lump gets sent to a pathologist who’ll determine if radiation therapy is necessary. And, we were told, most likely, it will not be. So, bad diagnosis, but as good of an outcome as you can get given the circumstances.

Well, when life throws you lemons, you make lemonade, right? Right. In my case, I came into a nice little dowery of locally grown, beautiful beets. Beets. Beets? Really? No? No beets? No, really, come back, don’t go, you’ll like this, I promise you.

lots of picklesloads of beets

I feel like the poor beet is forever maligned in America. I remember mentioning once in middle school (I learned that lesson fast) about how much I loved beets and a boy sitting next to me smirked and said “Figures. All Russians smell like cabbage. Beets are gross.” While I have still no idea what cabbage had to do anything with beets, I’m guessing it was another vegetable he found disgusting. And I understand, beets aren’t easy vegetables to love. They’re oddly, deeply colored and they dye everything in sight a deep shade of magenta. They’ve got curious texture. They’re just not popular. They’re the unpopular kids of the vegetable garden. Like those kids in middle school who weren’t cool, but didn’t know it and ran for Student Council anyway. Beets try hard. They so badly want to be loved. And loved they are, at least in my kitchen anyway. By the way, I do not, nor have I ever (nor has any of my family immediate or extended) smelled like cabbage. Ever.

canned peas

Now, to the point. Vinegret is a Russian beet salad made with potatoes, onions, pickles, carrots and other things. It is hearty. It is filling. It’s got a bite. I was told, and I cannot recall by whom, that vinegret was invented during Soviet times. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it was a regular staple in our household and it tastes so Russian to me, that I wonder if there was ever a time Russians lived without it. We made it in the summer, when local beets were hitting the market, and we had it in the winter, when vegetable stores seemed to have little to offer by potatoes, carrots and beets. And then you wonder how those three came to be together. What would otherwise be a someone unexciting salad, it gets some edge from pickles and onions and an extra zing from a dash of dill. And while traditionally, you’d think of nothing else but sunflower oil to dress it with, all I had was extra virgin olive oil and it worked beautifully.

venigret - russian beet salad

I’m in such vinegret-loving stage right now that I’m thinking I’ll have to serve this around New Years, to greet 2010, bidding 2009 a farewell forever. And the leftovers (that is if you have any) are even better the next day. Now, that’s something I can look forward to.


Venigret – Russian Beet Salad
Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 medium sized beets or 8 small beets
3-4 russet potatoes
4-5 carrots
1 small onion
2-3 pickles, chopped
1/2 – 1 can of peas (I know, canned peas, how un-gourmet of me, but that’s how we did it in Russia!)
3-4 tbs freshly chopped dill
salt
sunflower oil

Preparation:

1. Cook beets, potatoes and carrots in boiling water until they are soft. Drain and place back in the pot and cover with ice cold water (this will make peeling a lot easier). This can be done the night before so you don’t waste time on waiting for your vegetables to cool.

2. Chop the onion and drain the peas.

3. When the vegetables are cool, peel them and chop into small, approximately 1/3 to 1/2 inch, cubes.

4. Mix the vegetables, onion, pickles, peas, dill together adding a few glugs of oil to coat.

5. Season with salt and serve immediately.

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34 Comments

  • 1
    maggie said:

    Family recipes are perfect in times of trial. Really, really hoping things get better for you & the family soon.

    September 2, 2009 5:29 pm
  • 2
    Christine said:

    I’m sorry to hear things have been hard, but am glad that treatment and recovery are going to be relatively easy.
    The venigret looks very tasty, but then, I’m a beet lover. I’ll probably sub out golden beets in order to get a certain beet hating fiance to try it out. Sending good thoughts to you and your family.

    September 2, 2009 5:29 pm
  • 3
    katie Briggs said:

    This looks great, though I already love beets. Another great SassyRadish recipe!
    And here’s hoping the last few months of 2009 end up redeeming the rest of the year. No one deserves such a rough year.

    September 2, 2009 6:26 pm
  • 4
    Emily said:

    I’m sending you a big hug regarding your family. It’s never ever easy, and it definitely makes writing a difficult process.
    As for beets, I’ve rediscovered my loooooove for them. All I need is to roast them in foil, and toss with olive oil, s & p, lemon juice. I could eat soooo many beets in one sitting! But a salad like this might be a good new recipe to introduce to the kitchen.

    September 2, 2009 7:02 pm
  • 5

    I am so sorry that this has been such a hard year for you and your family,( I had one a very bad 2007 when my father almost died of heart failure and had to have his aortic valve replaced, and then almost died in surgery). Hospitals, uncertainty, fear; all of these things I understand and so I empathize very deeply.
    I hope your grandmother’s surgery is quick and successful. It sounds like you are a very loving and supportive family and that makes a huge difference.
    It is amazing that you can write at all through all of this – incredible really.
    Thank you for posting this beautiful salad. I love beets too, (you know the Hungarian side of my family has a real thing for the root), and I grow lots of them. So, I will enjoy this and think of you. I will picture your grandmother getting stronger each day!
    Love and Strength to your family…
    Michaela

    September 2, 2009 7:45 pm
  • 6
    yulinka said:

    Sorry to hear about your grandmother. Glad her procedure went well.
    I too love vinigret and beets. These days I have no problem taking vinigret for lunch to work, but I wouldn’t have dared when I was in school. I don’t care if people think it’s weird now that I’m older!

    September 2, 2009 10:39 pm
  • 7
    kickpleat said:

    I understand how it is with someone you love in the hospital. I also really love beets (though it could be due to my Lithuanian heritage – I love cabbage too). This looks delicious. Let’s hope for better things ahead!

    September 3, 2009 2:39 am
  • 8
    ann said:

    Ugh, how trying. Glad you’re hanging in there! And thanks for this, as you know I’ve got tons of beets and love me some pickle-tinted salads, so this is just perfect. And boy do I know about tough-love dishes. Try convincing people that Squash Soup is delicious!

    September 3, 2009 8:48 am
  • 9
    vika said:

    I made this at least once a month. Sometimes, I feel lazy and use all canned veggies (including potatoes). Other times, I actually make an effort to use fresh beets and boil potatoes.
    I grew up eating venegret with mayo instead of oil. When I make it myself, I alternate. Sometimes I use mayo, sometimes sunflower oil. Sometimes, I just eat it as is, with no dressing whatsoever.
    This is definitely my favorite salad of all time. Unfortunately, my husband hates beets so I can’t even share it with him. Fortunately, there’s more for me!

    September 3, 2009 11:55 am
  • 10
    Barbara W. said:

    This looks like the beet potato salad I had made by the Russian mother of a friend decades ago. I never forgot it. It was just beautiful and delicious. But her version was richer, it used mayonnaise!
    With best wishes.

    September 3, 2009 12:00 pm
  • 11

    It’s lovely to see that you can have a sense of humor in trying times. My whole family is like that, laughing in difficult or sad situations, which unnerves some people.
    I love beets, but I don’t know anything to do with them except roast them, so thanks for this (and future beet ideas to come.)

    September 3, 2009 8:58 pm
  • 12
    Josie said:

    I just lost my last grandparent this past spring, and it was rough. I agree that 2009 can stick it! I hope this is the last curve ball you are forced to deal with, and your grandmother heals quickly and thoroughly!
    This salad looks AMAZING. Count me as a non-Russian who adores beets. Always have. I am definitely going to try it out, although I might have to sub in frozen peas… I am not sure I can do canned ones ;)

    September 4, 2009 12:20 am
  • 13
    ecentipede said:

    i take refuge in cooking, and especially in baking when i am in tough times. while i love reading your blog–it’s great learning some of the traditional dishes long since forgotten by my family–i hope that it eases your stress instead of adding to it.

    September 4, 2009 3:33 am
  • 14
    radish said:

    Kelly – nothing left but to smile, right? :)
    Josie – so sorry for your loss. I understand about frozen vs canned peas. But that’s how we made it :) and it stuck!
    Ecentipede – i cook to calm myself down. It’s a nice relaxing thing.
    Everyone who left comments but they have vanished — I AM SORRY. EVIL MOVABLE TYPE ATE YOUR COMMENTS. AM TRYING TO FIND THEM. SORRY SORRY SORRY!!

    September 4, 2009 10:35 am
  • 15
    Dee said:

    Sending you all good thoughts for getting well…

    September 4, 2009 11:03 am
  • 16
    radish said:

    Everyone, thank you for your kind words! They are uplifting and encouraging!!
    Ann – squash soup IS delicious! :)

    September 4, 2009 12:39 pm
  • 17
    Eralda said:

    Get well soon!
    I am really enjoying your blog. So beautiful and delicious. And I especially love the salad in this post. There is a particular Russian salad that my parents make every New Year party in Albania and this reminds me very much of my parents’ version. Yummy!

    September 5, 2009 1:38 pm
  • 18
    pity said:

    i love beetroot and this salad looks so delicious and healthy, lovely blog and photos,
    cheers from london,
    pity

    September 7, 2009 6:02 pm
  • 19

    Looks lovely. All the colours – salad blush.

    September 8, 2009 7:59 am
  • 20
    EB said:

    It looks like it’s been soaked in wine!

    September 8, 2009 1:46 pm
  • 21
    Turtlepup said:

    You’re absolutely right that beets have been historically maligned in the US, but wait…there’s HOPE! According to the NYTimes, beets are a “superfood” (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/03/for-beets-a-little-more-respect-please/), so chock full of good stuff that it’s right up there with spinach and blueberries. Lovely to hear as I love beets (even beet ice cream!). In the UK, it’s so difficult to find raw beets with its leaves still on, but fortunately it has become at least possible to find raw beets without the leaves lately. Your recipe looks delish and I’m looking forward to trying it!

    September 11, 2009 1:36 pm
  • 22

    beautiful beat salad, I like the way you show us real pictures without the fluff

    September 12, 2009 11:48 am
  • 23
    Irene said:

    Thank you for posting this recipe! I love all beets, especially in vinigret – the taste is just so my childhood and I love how every family makes it a little bit differently. Of course, I still love my mom’s the best and I won’t make it because it’s never going to be as good as hers is. I’m a spoiled kid like that! Good thoughts to your family and best wishes for a speedy recovery to your grandma!

    September 15, 2009 2:32 am
  • 24

    I love the salad, hate the peas. LOL. The only item that I refuse/cannot eat is peas out of a can.

    The salad is lovely, and could be served at Xmas time as well. I know that we have shnitzel coming up, I am going to try this one out on Babbi, and see how she likes it.

    October 25, 2009 9:03 am
  • 25
    Irina said:

    Glad to see this classic recipe posted! May I suggest a tiny correction? I believe the correct spelling is “vinegret” (винегрет) rather than “venigret.”

    December 18, 2009 2:40 pm
  • 26
    Radish said:

    Irina – thanks for the correction!! Fixed.

    December 18, 2009 6:57 pm
  • 27
    Marie M. said:

    First, let me extend my well wishes for your grandmother’s health. My Russian mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 81, had a lumpectomy, then a year later a mastectomy. She lived until she was 95. Just so you should know, she didn’t have any chemo or radiation. I pray the same for your grandmother.

    We had a close variation of this salad when I was growing up. (I’ve lived in San Francisco since 1950.) One of my favorite salads — although I’d carefully pick out the peas one by one. Hate peas. Hate them. My mother also used canned everything. Canned beets, canned peas. I think she used real potatoes. Also, we made a sour cream and mayo dressing, half each. It seemed everything was covered in sour cream and sprinkled with dill, fresh or dry. Sour cream and dill was the only dressing for radishs.

    I haven’t made “vinegret” in years although I have a container with beets (canned, drained) and very finely diced red onions covered with Paul Newman’s Balsamic Dressing in the fridge right now. Great for a snack. Your pictures bring back memories. Thank you.

    January 21, 2010 12:25 am
  • 28
    Radish said:

    Marie – thank you so much for such uplifting thoughts. It would be a treat to have my grandmother live much longer – she’s an important person in my life. I’m glad to bring back memories and I love how food can juggle that sensory part of us – take us right back to a certain moment in time. Your snack sounds delicious!

    January 21, 2010 9:48 am
  • 29
    Brandee said:

    I love popping over to check out your Russian recipes. My grandmother is actually Ukrainian, though came from Prussia and is therefore thought of as German. Anyway, I’ve always felt a deep connection to her more than any other grandparent even though she left us long ago. I always try to incorporate into my life a little of her. Funny, the most “ethnic” thing she ever cooked for us was ox tail soup! She wanted so hard to be American.
    So that long-winded story just prefaces me saying thanks for posting Russian recipes; please do some more. I plan on trying this one today..what do you think of roasting the veggies? Just a thought…

    November 15, 2011 12:40 pm
  • 30
    Radish said:

    Brandee – what a great idea all around! try it! and let me know what you think.

    November 15, 2011 9:15 pm
  • 31
    Brandee said:

    Roasting the beets, potatoes & carrots made a very delicious salad. I love the earthiness of roasted beets anyway. I did add a handful of homemade sauerkraut. I saw that in another vinegret recipe. I love kraut…

    November 16, 2011 5:40 pm
  • 32
    Radish said:

    Brandee – never heard of that in vinegret, but it sounds delicious bc there are pickles in vinegret.

    November 16, 2011 8:27 pm
  • 33

    Vinegret! My Russian friend invited me to a New Year’s Eve party last year where she cooked a beautiful magnitude of traditional Russian food by herself–quite a feat! I tried a bite of her vinegret… and then another and another! It was so delicious, and I have been hunting for a recipe ever since! I can’t wait to give this a go!

    August 3, 2012 10:25 pm
  • 34
    vita said:

    So glad I found this recipe! My mom always made this salad for me growing up and I loved it! Sometimes she would add pickled cabbage too! Loved having a bowl of it with some dark rye bread.

    November 4, 2012 11:50 am

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