Niislel Salat, a.k.a. “Capital Salad”

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**HUGE apology for not updating the blog in seven months. SEVEN. Holy cow.**

One of the best food-related reasons to love Mongolia is its delicious potatoes. I don’t know what it is about them that makes them so darn tasty, but they are the bomb. They are typically on the small side (at least per American expectations), and the flesh of the potato (is that the right word?) is a deep yellow. The closest American equivalent I can think of is Yukon Golds, but even those aren’t as divine as Mongolian taters. I’ve checked before buying potatoes to make sure that I’m getting Mongolian ones rather than Chinese ones. They’re that yummy that I’m willing to embarrass myself with my terrible language skills to make sure I get the good stuff. #worthit

As I write this love letter to Mongol tubers, let me add that po-tay-toes are included in a wide variety of Mongolian dishes from soups to noodle dishes to salads. I love a good potato salad (my maternal grandmother’s recipe is my favorite in the US), and Mongolian potato salad does not disappoint. It’s called niislel salat, or capital salad, here, but apparently it is also common in Russia (and other former USSR nations) and known there as Olivier salad. That said, there is a basic approach to making the salad, but I find that a lot of folks have their own variations–as is the case with potato salad globally.

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My attempt!

I attempted this salad in the US this summer while staying at my sister and brother-in-law’s place, and they both approved so I think it’s safe to say that a lot of Americans would find this tasty as well. I’ll give a list of ingredients and directions below on making the salad, as well as possible substitutions.

Ingredients

  • potatoes
  • eggs
  • peas
  • carrots
  • corn
  • “hyam” (similar to summer sausage or ham)
  • cucumber and/or dill pickles
  • mayonnaise
  • mustard

Directions

  1. Peel and chop potatoes into a fine cube. (Everything should be cut about the same size, so aim for something about 1/4 inch cubed.) Boil potatoes. If using fresh carrots, you can peel, chop, and boil at the same time as the potatoes. You can also use canned carrots that are already chopped if, like me, you’re lazy and don’t want to spend hours dicing veggies!
  2. Hard-boil the potatoes. Peel and chop to the same size as everything else.
  3. Chop the “hyam”, cucumber, and/or dill pickles into that nice small dice. (Is your arm hurting yet?)
  4. Throw everything into a large bowl and toss with mayonnaise, a bit of mustard, and perhaps salt and pepper to taste. You could also add some dill if you really like.

Like I said, there are a wide variety of ways to make this salad, so if you don’t have one of the vegetables or you’re not a fan of pickles or cucumbers, you can probably make it without and still get the gist of the typical dish. Most restaurants have a form of this salad available, especially smaller cafes or Mongolian fast food joints. It shows up during major holidays and here and there in between the big festivals. I always get excited to see it on the menu or on someone’s table.

Let me know if you’ve had this salad before or if you try it out from this recipe! Mongolian friends (and strangers), let me know if I’ve botched the recipe!

Cheers,

Beth sig

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