Traditional Russian salads consist of ingredients that are chopped or sliced fairly small, bound in dressing and mixed to create something uniform. A more Western type of salad — that is to say, green leafy vegetables, either whole leaves or torn into large pieces, with some other ingredients arranged or piled on top — was virtually unknown when I was growing up and is not traditional in Russian cuisine, although lettuces are sometimes used.

Whenever oil is used in a dressing, it is sunflower oil, which gives Russian salads their distinctive, incomparable aroma. But don’t bother with sunflower oil at your local supermarket — those have been processed to death, so that they lack any distinctive smell or flavor. What you need for salads is “unrefined” sunflower oil, and that is only available at Russian and Ukrainian grocery stores. Even better is “unfiltered” sunflower oil — dark yellow, cloudy, with a sediment, and possessing especially intense flavor — but it is imported in small quantities and rarely available in the United States. Whenever I see it at my local Russian market, I always buy several bottles, because it is a rarity.

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