Among the many things that perfumery and cuisine have in common is their ability to take you back into the past. A whiff, a taste, and you’re in another time and place. My Proustian madeleine was a green salad my grandmother put together when we suddenly discovered that our lettuce patch was about to be overgrown. Since wasting food is a cardinal sin in our household, I was sent to pick the lettuce and herbs, while my grandmother boiled eggs and whipped a simple sour cream dressing. The combination of dill’s spicy licorice, tart cream and slightly bitter greens was refreshing, but it also reminded me of my childhood so poignantly that for a while I sat with my fork mid-motion.
Among my grandmother’s large repertoire, salads never played a big role. Depending on the season, we always had a large plate of fresh vegetables on the table–cucumbers sprinkled with salt, sliced tomatoes, radishes or spring onions, but the salad was hardly more than slivered cabbage tossed with parsley, dill and toasted sunflower seed oil. Green salad wasn’t even considered food fit for humans, and I vividly recall my great-grandmother pointing to a pile of lettuce and saying that only during the famine of the 1930s would she eat that “green nonsense.”
But for my grandmother greens meant vitamins, and even if her mother refused them, we, kids, had them for lunch almost daily. This being Ukraine–and this goes for most of Eastern Europe–leaves dressed simply with oil and vinegar wouldn’t do. My grandmother liked the subtle bitterness of romaine lettuce, but she added sour cream and boiled eggs to make salad “more interesting.” Even more delicious was her addition of scallions and lots of pungent dill. If cucumbers were on hand, they went into the salad too. Everything would be tossed till sour cream, eggs and herbs coated the leaves with velvety, pale yellow sauce.
Fast forward 20 years, and the green salad with egg and dill is still on our table. My grandmother still makes it the same way–lettuce, cucumbers, eggs, lots of scallions, dill and sour cream. I add my own touches, like thick, creamy yogurt instead of sour cream, basil instead of dill, and a generous splash of lemon juice. I often serve the salad alongside grilled fish, but my favorite way to eat it is piled onto thick slices of country bread for a rustic tartine.
Green Salad with Egg and Dill Dressing
1 head romaine lettuce, cored and cut crosswise into 1″ strips
2 medium cucumbers
2 hard boiled eggs, peeled
4 sprigs of dill
1/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
salt, pepper, lemon juice to taste
If your cucumbers have tough skin, peel them and cut in half lengthwise and slice into thin semicircles. Chop scallions. Mince dill. Chop eggs into medium cubes.
Toss lettuce, cucumbers, scallions, and dill in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add sour cream and toss well to combine. If you would like to accent the tart note, add lemon juice. Finally, add chopped eggs and once again mix thoroughly. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
Photography by Bois de Jasmin