A “salad” in America usually means something thrown together quite quickly – some fresh chopped vegetables, some dressing. If there’s any meat at all, then it’s usually extremely dry chicken breast. “Salad”, in other words, is a health food, a convenience food, something you eat on a diet, something you pick at as a side dish, but generally not something you actually want to eat.
Not so in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Salads are usually quite extravagant, complicated dishes served at parties or as a first course. And more often than not, they are anything but healthy – covered in mayonnaise and filled with all sorts of cold cuts. In other words, something you might actually look forward to eating!
“Uzbekistan” salad, despite the name, isn’t part of traditional Uzbek cuisine. Supposedly, it was invented in the 1950s in Moscow when Uzbek chefs tried to introduce Russians to their national cuisine for the first time. It combines Central Asian green radish with the Russian love of mayonnaise – almost like an Uzbek version of the famous “Olivier” salad. It does look pretty “retro” – it reminds me of something you’d see in 1970s US cookbooks – but trust me, it’s delicious. The green radish is a refreshing complement to the fried onion, mayo, and oven-baked steak.
This recipe is adopted from Stalic Khankishiev’s book “Базар, казан и дастархан” as well as Hakim Ganiev’s book “Восточный пир”. Stalic has a video recipe for this dish, but he does it slightly differently than in his book – using yogurt instead of mayonnaise for the dressing.
Green radish – the color is what makes this dish special – but if you can’t find them, substitute with daikon
Mayonnaise – I like Japanese “Kewpie” mayonnaise, but any will do
Beef – use a steak cut
1. Skin the green radish and slice it into sticks. Let the radish sticks sit in a bowl of salted cold water for 30 minutes.
2. Skin and chop a few garlic cloves lengthwise.
3. Rub the beef with salt and pepper. Using a knife, make little holes in the beef and stick the garlic pieces inside. Do this all over the beef on both sides. Ainsley Harriott demonstrates the technique quite enthusiastically in this video.
4. Wrap the beef in foil (use at least 2 layers) – make sure it’s tightly sealed, then put it on a baking pan in the oven for 30 minutes at 400F.
5. Skin an onion, and chop it into rings. Cover the onion rings in flour and sift them a bit to get rid of the excess flour.
6. Deep fry the onion rings until golden brown. Let them drain on a paper towel.
7. When the beef is done (it would taste delicious as-is for a simple meat dish), let it cool down, then slice it into long, thin strips.
8. Layer the bottom of the serving dish with the radish slices, then the meat slices, then cover this with a generous amount of mayonnaise. Put the fried onion rings on top. Imagine you are in one of the finest Uzbek restaurants of Soviet-era Moscow. Priyatnovo appetita!
If you don’t want to go all that trouble, a simple salad of green radish, salt, pepper, and oil is a refreshing accompaniment to heavy food and easy to make. It’s no “Uzbekistan” salad, but it’s a nice way to eat green radish.