From Russia with love

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I was walking along the supermarket aisle a couple of weeks ago when I saw it. I stopped dead in my tracks, looked at it, read the label carefully, looked again, and burst out laughing. I did draw quite a few stares, I can tell you! `Pazzo’ I heard someone whisper. So what did I see?

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Russian salad! That staple of dinner parties of the 70′s! I don’t think I’ve seen it in over 2 decades (or maybe I’m living in a cave). Why was I astonished and why did I laugh? Because it brought back a whole lot of memories, and a big fat realization (yes-pun intended) of how our lives and eating habits have changed.

When I was a child, Russian salad was very much `party food’ – mom and the cook spent hours dicing and boiling vegetables and whipping up a rich mayonnaise dressing. The veggies and mayo were then combined, chunks of tinned pineapple added, chilled for a couple of hours and voila! Magic! An accompanying dish might be hot dogs – 70′s style, with the sausage and the buns deep fried, wrapped in a napkin and dunked in ketchup! Oh heaven would taste like this.

Russian salad brings back all this and more – two little girls in cool cotton nightdresses peeping from behind the curtains as Abba and Status Quo play at full blast, while the adults dance and drink and eat, the air thick with fragrant cigarette smoke. One raised eyebrow from mom sends the girls scurrying off into their room, collapsing on the bed in peals of  giggles. The little girls yearn to grow up quickly and be a part of this glamorous adult world …that they did, but times changed. A lot of information came their way. They danced and drank and had many friends, but lived in horror of fat and cholesterol and smoking in the house … was it good? Or did they miss out on the innocent and decadent pleasure of eating without having to think? Don’t know.

Snap back to 2011. Girl becomes woman, defines herself as wife and mother, and makes lunch sandwiches for L&M (for those who came in late – that’s Lord and Master). Thinks about how she could make it healthier and hey – why not home made mayonnaise? No preservatives, healthy ingredients and loads of flavor! And so starts a journey of experimentation, which results in a formula that works perfectly – each time. For her. And that, for a delicate food product like mayonnaise, is good.

Trust me, once you have made your own mayonnaise you will not enjoy the store-bought one.Commercial brands of mayo are great, make no mistake, but it’s not the same. I do not dare make or eat Russian salad, but mayo is quite often my choice of sandwich spread. It often (unfairly) gets the rap for being unhealthy and fattening.  I will just say 2 things in it’s defence -

1. As with all good things, portion control is essential. If you spread a thin layer (about 1 Tbsp) on your bread and then load up with veggies/chicken/whatever,it should be okay. Coddle your fillings in it, and you’re getting more than you should eat.

2. With  home made mayo, you know what you are putting in. In this recipe, it is olive oil. Not saturated fats like in commercial products. Not saturated fats as in butter. And loads of flavor so a little bit goes a long way. And if you think home made sandwiches are better than commercial ones anyway, we’re speaking the same language!

So without further ado, let’s jump right in!

SHRUTI’S HOMEY MAYO (Prep time 5 mins, cooking time 10 mins + some patience and a steady pair of hands)

* Egg yolks – 2 (I use an egg separator but it’s also easy to do if you just crack open the eggs and transfer the yolk from one half of the shell to the other a few times. I use the whites for a delicious and healthy omelette). It is absolutely essential that the eggs be at room temperature. As anyone who bakes knows, eggs that are cold tend to curdle as soon as they are beaten.

* Olive oil – 200 ml (Just good quality olive oil, NOT extra virgin. It tends to be bitter and your mayo will not taste good)

* Vinegar/white wine vinegar – 1.5 tbsps (if your vinegar is really strong maybe 1 tbsp would be enough. Mine is pretty mild)

* Mustard powder – 2 tsps (This is optional – I like strong mustardy mayo. But if you don’t just leave it out or reduce the quantity)

* Salt – 1/2 tsp

* A very tiny pinch of sugar (to balance the tartness of the vinegar)

* An electric whisk / egg beater. I suspect a blender would also work, but I’ve never tried it. In the old days they used a manual egg whisk – respect to all those cooks! What strong arms, what oodles of patience and what a love of the craft they must have had.

* A jug or a small teapot – basically a utensil that would allow you to control the flow of oil and you could pour it out drop by drop

So what’s next?

- Put egg yolks into a deep bowl and add the salt. Using the electric whisk , best the egg yolks for about 2 mins. This is going to form the base of your mayonnaise.

- Now comes the critical part – while running the electric whisk, pour in the oil DROP by DROP into the egg yolk. In scientific terms, what you are doing is emulsifying the mixture. i.e., breaking up the oil into microscopic droplets and integrating it into the yolk. You will see a rich yellow mixture in the bowl now.

Sorry people - there's now way to make this look appetizing and non-gooey

Sorry people – there’s no way to make this look appetizing and non-gooey

- At this stage it’s really tempting to let go and start pouring the oil in. Don’t !! The mayo will curdle, leaving you with long oily streaks instead of a homogenous mixture. If you are using a hand held beater (as I do) and are getting tired, stop and rest … nothing drastic will happen to the mayo.

- Continue pouring it drop by drop until the gets to a stage when it starts looking like scrambled eggs. Normally you should be through with about 1/4th of your oil by now.

Better now? Like scrambled eggs

Better now? Like scrambled eggs

- This is when you can start pouring it out in a thin stream.

- You will see that it starts thickening and coming together. When you have just 2-3 tbsps of oil left, add in the vinegar and mustard and sugar (you can just dump it in all at once) and beat well.

- Add in the remaining oil …and voila!! Your mayonnaise is ready. Taste it, spoon it into a glass jar and pop it into the fridge. It will last for about 2 weeks…but I can promise you it will be polished off before that!

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OK – I have recently got an AMAZING tip and it works. If your mayo curdles, just keep going with it. Once you are done, take a clean bowl, add in a tbsp of water, add the curdled mayo bit by bit, beating all the while – and like magic, it comes together again! Bless the cook who discovered this and thought to share.

Oh  - and a little nugget of information. Russian salad was originally called (and still is) Olivier Salad. It was invented in the 1860s by a Belgian chef called Lucien Olivier who was the chief chef at the grand Hermitage restaurant in Moscow. It quickly became very popular and was the restaurant’s signature dish. Then of course an underling got hold of the jealously guarded recipe and started his own restaurant…and the rest as they say …you know what they say. How food travels! From Russia to Britain to a far away colony called India. Good taste truly knows no boundaries.

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5 responses »

  1. Bless you Shruti! Your way with words and vivid description brought the 70′s bouncing back into my life :) I cook a LOT but I still do not make mayo at home – well that stops now – the next sandwich will have Shruti’s homey mayo :)

    Love the tips too and that little bit of trivia – already looking forward to your next post!

    Keep ‘em coming…

  2. Really enjoyed reading it. Transported me to may be Vizag? Love, Ma.

    ******************************************** NISHA AND PRAMOD AGGARWAL 114 MUNIRKA VIHAR NEW DELHI 110067 PH: 011 26107910

    ________________________________

    • So loved the post, Di! Yes, Mum .. transported me to Vizag too! And Di had a front tooth missing in the pic in my mind too :-)
      Lovely post .. will certainly try the Mayo!

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