I might be eight years too late, but a few months ago I bought Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. I flipped through pages for days in search of the perfect first recipe to make. Which one do you think caught my attention? Flawlessly smooth hummus? Juicy lamb shawarma? Stuffed aubergine with pine nuts? No, my Russian beet-loving soul was begging for pureed beetroot with yogurt and za’atar. So prepare it I did. And upon the first bite (or sip? what do you do with a puree? maybe lick?) the memories of Russian beet salad with sour cream and walnuts rushed in.
So much for the first recipe from a cookbook on Israel! Of course, the Russian beet salad has none of the date syrup, za’atar, or red chili that Ottolenghi uses. But the unmistakable sweetness of baked beetroot combined with the richness of creamy mellow yogurt is what the recipe is truly all about and what transported me right back home, to a Soviet-style canteen.
I am standing in front of a self-serving counter studded with plates upon plates with salads and zakuski (appetizers). You can open the glass cabinet and reach for any plate that looks attractive. Looks at you, so to say. Sometimes it’s the heavier meat-and-potato kind of salad, like olivier, that looks at me. Other times, it’s the fancy crab and corn salad, which really only sounds fancy — it’s imitation crab we are talking about. And then, every so often, something simple, like a beet salad with walnuts, will catch my eye.
It’s creamy and rich and crunchy and spicy, but above all — pleasantly sweet, like a morning kiss. The Russian beet salad is not a strong contender among its mayo-filled cousins. The plates with olivier “fly out like hot pies”, as I’d say in Russian, while the servings of beet salad are patiently waiting for those, like me, who prefer beetroot to hummus, lamb, and pine nuts.
A Few Tips on Making Russian Beet Salad
Choose firm beets for your salad (or for any of your beetroot needs, really), scrub them well and cook, unpeeled, until you can insert a knife without any resistance. I prefer baking the beets, but you can boil them too.
The traditional way is to grate the beets on the large holes of a box grater, but if you don’t want your countertop to look like a murder scene, use a food processor. The texture won’t be quite the same, but the salad will still be delicious. Just be careful not to blend the beets into puree.
I use homemade tvorog (Russian-style cottage cheese) in this recipe. You can learn how to make it here — well worth the time and very little effort it requires! But if spending 3 days making cottage cheese is not something you feel like right now, just substitute ricotta for tvorog. I don’t recommend store-bought tvorog for this recipe as it is usually much dryer and crumblier than the home-made one. And its purpose here is to bind the ingredients together.
- 3 medium beets (500 grams/1 pound)
- 1/2 cup (100 grams/3.5 ounces) tvorog (Russian-style cottage cheese) or ricotta
- 1/3 cup (30 grams/1 ounce) walnuts, chopped
- 1/4 cup (30 grams/1 ounce) raisins, soaked in strong black tea for 15 minutes
- 2 small garlic cloves, peeled and grated
- 1 tablespoon sour cream
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 spring onion, chopped (for decoration)
Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F). Scrub the beets well and place them, unpeeled, on a baking tray. Stick the tray in the oven for about 1 hour or until you can insert a knife into a beet easily. Take the beets out of the oven and let them cool. When they are cool enough to touch, peel them.
Grate the beets on the large holes of a grater. Alternatively, pulse the beets in a food processor until you get small pieces. Be careful not to blitz them into puree. Transfer to a bowl.
Add all the other ingredients (reserving 1 tablespoon of walnuts for decoration) and mix together. Put spring onions and reserved walnuts on top and serve.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 167Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 14mgSodium: 357mgCarbohydrates: 14gFiber: 2gSugar: 9gProtein: 5g