Salată de boeuf, despite its French-sounding name, is the most festive dish in Romanian cooking. If you are familiar with the Russian “Salad Olivier”, then you’ll recognise many similarities but also differences in this dish. In Romania, there is no big celebration, such as Christmas, New Year’s or Easter, without this dish on the table.
It’s been this way in our home too, for as long as I can remember. At every table and every celebration, my grandma at first and later my mum would make this impressive dish, to everyone’s delight.
The story of salată de boeuf in my family
Both my grandmas were born in eastern European countries. More specifically, Grandma Anna (my father’s mother) was born in Varna, Bulgaria. But at some point, her family moved to Constanza, Romania, where later she met and married my grandfather. That’s where my father was born too. As a result, her cooking was primarily Romanian.
In case you’re wondering what business Greeks have choosing to live in these countries, let me tell you that until World War II, the cities around the Black Sea were rich international trade hubs. Business was good and profitable there. Moreover, Greeks had a historic presence in the area for centuries. As a result, they weren’t seen as outsiders in the least.
The Greek diaspora of the Black Sea was socially prominent and financially affluent. They had their own theatres, schools, colleges, churches and more. Unfortunately, the wars and revolutions of the 20th century meant the end of the good times for many people, including the Greeks. Most of them either migrated to their homeland or to the USA, Canada and Australia. My grandparents in particular migrated to New Zealand (my great-uncle and his family migrated to Australia).
But, I digress. Back to the recipe!
What’s in a name: “Salată de boeuf”, “salade de boeuf”, “Russian Salad” or “Salad Olivier”)?
If the name “Salată de boeuf” sounds French to you, it’s not just you! It so happens that Romanians have always admired anything French, especially gastronomy. Actually, in my family, we call it “salade de boeuf” (even more French), and it simply means “beef salad”.
It is very similar to the more well-known “Russian salad”. Essentially, they are variations of the same dish. Most countries in Eastern Europe have their own version.
For the record, the Russians called it “Olivier” after the (Belgian) chef Lucien Olivier, who first created it around 1860 in a luxury Moscow restaurant.
Main ingredients of the Romanian Beef Salad
- Meat: traditionally, this salad is made with stewed beef. However, you can substitute it with chicken or even turkey.
- Pickles: can’t do it without! No matter which country’s version of this salad you plan to make, you can’t do it without lots and lots of pickles.
- Vegetables: potatoes, carrots and peas. You can either use frozen peas and boil them with the carrots and potatoes or canned peas (but drain them very well).).
- Mayonnaise and mustard: lots of mayonnaise and lots of mustard! Don’t skip the mustard, it makes all the difference.
- Salt and pepper: according to taste but keep in mind that potatoes do absorb a lot of salt.
Other ingredients you can add in salată de boeuf:
Often in Russia, they add boiled eggs (I tried it once, it was okay, but I wasn’t crazy about it, so I didn’t repeat it). Moreover, in Russia, they usually make it with diced ham instead of cooked beef and they omit the mustard.
Tips for the perfect Romanian salat de boeuf
- Don’t skip the pickles: I use a lot of pickles, at least 1 cup diced.
- Drain the peas and pickles: if using frozen peas, drain all the juice before adding them to the salad. The same goes for pickles. Otherwise, some liquid will drain at the bottom of the serving bowl afterwards. Not nice.
- Cook the meat: I prefer cooking it in the slow cooker overnight. Alternatively, cook it in seasoned water until ready (probably 2-3 hours).
- Temperature: all ingredients should be cooled down to room temperature before mixing them together. Also, this salad is best served cold. Never heat it!
How to serve
Ideally, make this salad one day ahead of serving. It tastes a lot better the next day!
Before serving, spread more mayo and mustard mixture on the top and smooth it with a knife or spoon. Garnish it with sliced red peppers, pickled cucumber, boiled eggs, carrots or olives. Whatever you prefer.
You can store this salad, covered, in the fridge for 5-6 days. Tastes better with time! However, it doesn’t freeze well, so don’t put it in the freezer.
In Romania and other Slavic countries, they serve it as a main dish, but also as a side dish or starter. Also, and this might surprise you, we often eat the leftovers on a slice of bread, for breakfast the next day. It’s delicious!
Salată de boeuf (Romanian beef salad) recipe
- 1 pound (1/2 kg) stewing meat or chicken or turkey breast
- 4 potatoes
- 4 carrots
- 1/2 pound (200 gr) peas, frozen or canned, drained
- 1/2 pound (200 gr) pickled cucumber
- 1 pound (1/2 kg) mayonnaise (you can use light if you prefer)
- 1/4 cup mustard (regular, mild)
- salt and pepper to taste
- vegetables for garnishing (red peppers, carrots, etc)
- Cook the beef: Put the meat, cut into portions, in a pot of boiling water or beef stock. Cook it for 2-3 hours until tender or in a slow cooker overnight. Can be made the previous day and stored in the fridge. When ready, drain and transfer to a platter to cool.
- Cook the vegetables: Peel the potatoes and carrots. Cooke them in a large pot with plenty of water and 1 teaspoon of salt. If you are using frozen peas, add them too. Cook until they are soft enough to be pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes. Don’t overcook them, or they will get mushy in the salad. When they’re done, drain them and let them cool.
- Prepare the vegetables and meat: Dice the potatoes and slice the carrots. Drain the pickled cucumbers on kitchen paper and cut them into small pieces. Set some carrots and cucumbers aside for garnishing later. Chop the meat. If using canned peas, drain them well before mixing them into the salad.
- Prepare the salad: Add all the vegetables and meat in a large serving bowl or large salad bowl. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently. In a bowl, mix the mayo and mustard together. Set a bit aside for garnishing later. Add the remaining mayonnaise and mustard to the vegetable and meat mixture, and mix everything together.
- Serving: put the salad in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving. Then, smooth the surface with the remaining mayo and mustard and garnish with sliced vegetables and boiled eggs (if using).
Happy cooking! Have you made this salad? Tell us in the comments below!