Based on Russia’s famous Salad Olivier, Israeli potato salad gets its distinct Israeli twang from diced Israeli pickles. Always available in street vendors’ salad bars to be stuffed in pita, it’s also often served along with the Mizrachi-style salads that open an Israeli meal.
In the documentary In Search of Israeli Cuisine, Michael Solomonov (of Zahav) goes into a little hole-in-the-wall falafel joint and points out the diverse origins of all the salads in the toppings bar. “And this one is Russian,” he says, pointing to every Israeli mom’s potato salad. Revelation time. This just never occurred to me, because this thoroughly familiar salad, often served alongside Mizrachi style meze, is so thoroughly Israeli to me. When I went in search of a definitive recipe, it quickly dawned on me that my mom’s potato salad was the Israeli version of Salad Olivier, the famous Russian diced potato salad, traditionally made with cold chicken, or ham. Otherwise, the two salads are almost identical.
There are a few differences, however. While Salad Olivier is finely diced, the homestyle version of Israeli potato salad is chunkier (and therefore, less fussy). It is usually more finely diced in salad bars, for pita stuffing and all. Israeli salad also gets its patois from Israeli-style pickles, which are completely different from your standard dills. They’re made with smaller, Persian type cucumbers, are mushier (in a good way, I swear), and have a distinct flavor, maybe because of a bit of turmeric? I’m not sure. And the Israeli salad is always meatless. If you can’t find Israeli pickles, cornichons would be a good substitute.
Cooking the vegetables and eggs
The vegetables for the salad amicably cook together. You want the potatoes and carrot to go in whole and unpeeled (you’ll peel them later in the process). The potatoes, carrot, and eggs can go in together. After about 5-7 minutes at a boil, you can fish out the carrot and eggs, leaving the potatoes to cook another 15 minutes or so. In the last five minutes, the frozen peas go in. Then, you let everything cool so that you can handle it.
Making Israeli potato salad
Once you have all the elements prepped, it’s just a matter of dicing them. The potato and egg are the trickiest because they tend to make it stick to your knife, or fall apart on you. I recommend sticking to a larger dice to avoid any hassle they want to give you.The carrots and pickles are obliging, and then you season the salad and gently fold in the mayonnaise.
Israeli Potato Salad (parve)
- 2 medium yellow or white potatoes – unpeeled
- 2 eggs
- 1 carrot – unpeeled
- 1/2 cup frozen
- 3 small Israeli pickles
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- salt and pepper – to taste
- Place the whole, unpeeled potatoes, eggs, and unpeeled carrot into a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. When the water reaches a boil, allow the eggs and carrot to cook for 15 minutes, then remove from the pot. Add the peas and leave the potatoes to cook for another 10-15 minutes, until they are easily pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes and peas and leave until cool enough to handle.
- Peel the carrot and potato – the skins should come off easily. Dice the potatoes and eggs into cubes and add to a bowl. Finely dice the carrot and pickles and add to the bowl as well. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then fold in the mayonnaise, evenly tossing the salad and coating everything. Chill in the refrigerator.