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~ Russian Sweet-and-Sour Poppy-Seed Vinaigrette ~

IMG_1418"Russian" is in quotes because I have no idea if this salad dressing is authentic Russian.  

793px-Bejgli1What I do know is, I grew up in an Eastern European household and ate my fair share of poppy seeds. My grandmother made a honey-sweetened paste of them to fill her poppy seed and walnut rolls for all holidays, and, sprinkled them on top of small, soft, dinner rolls too.  

Note:  This photo is courtesy of Wikipedia.   I promise to post and share my own recipes for poppy seed and walnut rolls closer to the Christmas holiday.

A bit about poppy seeds:  Because I never saw poppy seeds anywhere else, I just  assumed they must be Russian, or Eastern European in general, and on that point was not far off.  The Egyptians were growing them in 1550 BC and documented using them as a sedative.  The Minoans, a Bronze Age civilization living on the island of Crete,  circa 1450 BC, cultivated poppies for their seeds. Through time, poppy seeds have been used throughout Europe as a folk remedy to aid sleeping, promote fertility and wealth, and even to provide the magical power of invisibility. Nowadays, Eastern European countries are the leaders in poppy seed production.

Me, Neiman Marcus and Sweet & Sour Poppy-Seed Vinaigrette:

IMG_1443Back in the mid 1980's, Joe was traveling to Texas quite a bit.  We had nothing but wonderful experiences in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.  On our Dallas trip, one of the other wives tagged along, so, Barb and I spent a day shopping at the flagship Neiman Marcus store, which included lunch in their Zodiac Room.  I spied a salad on the menu that caught my attention. It was a combination of iceberg lettuce, chopped red apples, golden raisins, blue cheese and candied walnuts with a IMG_1453thicker-than-usual vinaigrette to the side for dipping or drizzling.  It was amazing and I was so glad I ordered it. Because it boasted poppy-seeds, raisins and walnuts, I assumed it had to have some sort of ties to Eastern European cuisine, and was most surprised to learn (via the waiter): The addictive vinaigrette recipe was attributed to Helen Corbitt, an Irish-Catholic gal from NYC, who was hired as the food-service mananger for Neiman Marcus during the 1940's and 1950's.  So, for many years afterward --

I hesitated to refer to it as a Russian or Eastern European creation -- until I read what she wrote, in classy honesty, in her 1957 cookbook, which allows its origin to yet be determined:

Helen-corbitt $T2eC16hHJHcFFkRhtsOlBR+E+-NPzg~~60_35"I would like to tell a story of a dressing designed for fruits.  

Where it originated I have no idea.  I remember having it served to me in NYC so many years ago I hate to recall.  Rumors extend hither and yon that I created it, and I hasten to deny this, but:

I did popularize it when I realized that on the best grapefruit in the world (Texas grapefruit), it was the most delectable dressing imaginable.  Today there is hardly a restaurant or home in Texas that does not have some version of it.  The recipe I use has been in demand to the point of being ludicrous, and, strange as it may seem, the men like it.  A few even put it on their potatoes!"

"If you make one salad dressing or vinaigrette from scratch in your lifetime, make this one." ~ Melanie Preschutti

IMG_13591/2-3/4  cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup)*

1 1/2  teaspoons dry mustard

1  teaspoon sea salt

6  tablespoons apple cider vinegar, or, for a special treat, tarragon vinegar

3  tablespoons diced yellow or sweet onion processed to a finely-grated texture to produce 2 tablespoons finely-grated onion**

1  cup vegetable oil

2  teaspoons poppy seeds

** Note:  Helen Corbitt used onion juice, which she obtained by straining finely-grated onion.  I happen to like the finely grated texture.  The choice is yours.

* Note:  1/2 cup of sugar  produces a "drizzlier" consistency, 3/4 cup produces a "dippable" one! 

IMG_1370 IMG_1366~ Step 1.  In a mini- food processor or blender, process the onion until it reaches a finely-grated, just short of a puree texture, about 15-20 seconds.  You will have at least 2 tablespoons of finely-grated onion. If you have a little more, use it as it will just add more flavor to the vinaigrette.

IMG_1379 IMG_1376~ Step 2. Place the sugar, mustard, salt, vinegar and grated onion in the work bowl of a small food processor fitted with a steel blade (or a blender).  With motor turned on process until thoroughly combined and smooth, about 30-45 seconds.

IMG_1380~ Step 3.  With motor running, through the feedtube, slowly and in a thin stream add the vegetable oil. Continue to process for 3 minutes.  

Note:  This seems like a long time, but this is the time it takes to ensure this mixture will emulsify properly and remain the same thick and satisfying consistency.  Typical oil and vinegar mixtures separate within minutes of mixing.  This vinaigrette does not.

IMG_1396Notice how smooth and thick this is?

6a0120a8551282970b019104e8a201970c~ Step 4. Add the poppy seeds to the workbowl. Using a series of 30-40 rapid on-off pulses, process until poppy seeds are thoroughly incorporated.

Transfer to a bottle or food storage container and store in refrigerator indefinitely.  Be sure to return to room temperature prior to serving:

My husband Joe refers to it as "frosting for a salad", akin to "icing on a cake".

IMG_1414Russian Sweet-and-Sour Poppy-Seed Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups dressing.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; mini-food processor; small food processor or blender; rubber spatula; 2-cup bottle or food storage container w/lid 

PICT5582Cook's Note:  This vinaigrette/salad dressing is fantastic on any type of garden salad, but, it complements salads that contains fresh fruit particularly well too.  As I mentioned above, at Neiman Marcus, it was served on a bed of iceberg lettuce topped with chopped red delicious apples, crumbled blue cheese, golden raisins and candied walnuts (which are a special treat).  Add some roasted or grilled chicken and you've got a delightful meal!

You can find my recipe for ~ Super-Crunchy Sugar Crusted Spiced Pecans ~ in Categories 2, 6 or 11!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


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