A classic Russian appetizer, this version of the creamy Russian Beet Salad has feta cheese and chopped toasted walnuts for extra flavor and crunch.
Do you have any Russian friends? If yes, do your best to get yourself invited to a dinner party at their house. No matter the occasion - birthdays, New Years Eve, or just a summer party - you will not believe the amount of dishes that you will be served.
And I am willing to bet that this classic Russian Beet Salad will be on the table.
Related recipe: Golubtsi (Russian Stuffed Cabbage)
A Typical Russian Dinner Party
When your arrive at a Russian dinner party, the table will already be set with dozens of dishes overfilled with food. Salads, spreads, cold cuts, cut up veggies, pickles, bread, more salads, warm appetizers, cold appetizers, smoked salmon dishes, and of course - wine and shot glasses ready to be filled. You will sit down and get to try a ton of delicious foods and eat more than you think you could.
And then the host(ess) will announce that that was just the appetizers, the first course.
Next up is the main course: lamb, fish, beef, chicken, roasted potatoes, more pickles. That, of course, will be followed by tea and dessert: chocolates, pastries, maybe a cake, and fresh fruit. So if you do end up going to a Russian dinner party, make sure you (1) come hungry and (2) don't fill up at first - find out what's coming next!
Russian people love a good feast, and this type of dinner party is common in most families.
Related recipe: Syrniki (Russian Cheese Pancakes)
Beets and Russian Cuisine
Beets are a very common ingredient in Russian cooking. This is because they last a long time after being harvested, so they provided a lot of nutrition over the winter before refrigerators were common in every household.
In Russian country houses (dachas), there was always a cold storage 'basement' with a dirt floor, a root cellar of sorts, to store food over the winter. Beets were always found in the cellar, which is why this creamy beet salad is common in Russian cuisine.
Beets are also super nutritious, making it easy to get vital vitamins and nutrients in the middle of winter.
Related recipe: Beet and Blue Cheese Salad with Homemade Citrus Vinaigrette
Russian Beet Salad
This salad combined grated cooked beets, fresh garlic, mayonnaise (another common Russian ingredient), scallions, Feta cheese, and toasted chopped walnuts. The first three are common ingredients found in every grated beet salad. The latter (Feta, walnuts) are my additions to make this salad EXTRA tasty.
Look, I get it. Not everyone loves beets. My husband says they taste like dirt. He's not trying to be mean, he thinks they taste like what dirt would taste like. So he never eats straight up roasted beets - he always needs them to be mixed into a salad such as this one because the Feta cheese add a lovely tangy saltiness and creaminess to the salad. And the walnuts add a nice crunch to add some texture to the beet salad.
Oh, and the mayo? Don't worry, the salad does not taste like mayonnaise. The mayo just makes everything creamy and come together. You need it, trust me.
How to cook beets for this salad:
You've got three options for cooking the beets for this beet salad: Instant Pot (or another pressure cooker), boiling, or roasting.
The Instant Pot is the fastest way to cook beets. The beets cook in 12 minutes, so that's less than a half hour total for the Instant Pot to come up to pressure and release pressure. If you're not using the Instant Pot, make sure you check your manufacturer's recipe book for instructions for exactly how long to cook beets. If you have an Instant Pot but are still too afraid to use it (I've been there!!), you might want to check out this course: (Use code BABAGANOSH5 to get $5 off this course!)
Boiling is another option for cooking the beets. It is the classic Russian way to cook beets. It will take you about 30-45 minutes to boil the beets until they are fork-tender, depending on the size of the beets.
Roasting is the most delicious but the most time-consuming way to cook the beets. To roast beets, peel them, place them in foil, and cover with olive oil. Cover the foil and roast at 400F for 50-60 minutes, or until the beets are fork tender. Be careful opening the foil packet, as there might be steam inside.
A few tips to make this salad:
Time saving tip: No matter which way you decide to cook the beets, you can always cook them beforehand for this recipe and keep them refrigerated for up to 2-3 days. Then when you want to make the salad, it will take you only about 10 minutes to grate the beets and prep everything.
Beet handling tip: The best way to make this salad is by grating beets with your hand on an old-school grater. A box grater (such as this one) works best because it is stable and you can get the job done faster with less mess because it won't slip out from underneath and send beet pieces flying everywhere.
Speaking of which, beets will stain everything you have. You might want to wear gloves and wear old and/or dark clothes when making this salad. Your hands will stain pink temporarily if you touch peeled beets. It's not a big deal but if you have plans later that day where you don't want to show up with pink hands, you should consider gloves. Your kitchen surfaces can be wiped clean easily, but clothes might stain temporarily, depending on their color and fabric. So wear an apron at minimum, but I would take it a step further and just wear an old t-shirt when making this salad. Beets are surprisingly messy, even when you tell yourself you're going to be careful!
Flavor boosting tip: For maximum flavor, toast the chopped walnuts in a hot dry skillet for a few minutes (stir frequently and toast until fragrant) and use freshly minced garlic. This microplane zester is great for grating tiny pieces of garlic that will mix well with the salad, so your guests don't end up biting down on a piece of garlic. Plus it has a ton of other uses: cheese, citrus zest, grating nutmeg, etc.
Other appetizer salads you will love:
- 4-ingredient Fennel Salad with Dill
- Spiralized zucchini salad with feta
- No-mayo potato salad with feta
Russian Beet Salad with Feta
- 1 lb beets (about 4 small ones)
- ¼ cup toasted chopped walnuts (optional, for crunch)
- ¼ cup feta cheese , crumbled
- 1 garlic clove , minced
- 1 scallion chopped
- Salt to taste (about ⅛ - ¼ teaspoon is a good start)
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- Peel the beets. Chop them in half if they're small, or into quarters if they're larger. Try to make all the pieces roughly the same size and thickness. Add ½ cup water to the Instant Pot. Add the steamer basket to the Instant Pot, and place the beets on top. Cover with the lid, set the valve to sealing, and cook on high pressure for 12 minutes (or follow your pressure cooker's recipe booklet). Let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then do a manual release. Carefully remove the beets from the Instant Pot and rinse them under cold water to get them to cool while you work on step 2. You can boil or roast beets instead of using the Instant Pot (read the post above to get the cooking times).
- Toast the walnuts, if using. In a large bowl combine the rest of the ingredients (¼ cup feta cheese, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 chopped scallion, about ⅛ teaspoon of salt, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, and the toasted walnuts).
- Grate the beets. Add them to the bowl and mix well. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator and serve chilled. Garnish with additional feta cheese, scallions, and/or chopped walnuts.