Heritage Food in Our FamilyPhoto by Angie Runyan

Heritage Food In Our Family – Rosolje – Estonian Beet and Potato Salad

Given the welcoming attitude our country has established and continues to extend to those seeking freedom and prosperity from around the world, as Americans, we have all become accustomed to a wide variety of ethnic food choices. We have been introduced to a range of culinary delights often within our own extended families and especially when choosing to dine out.

So many ethnic food choices in the USA have given all of us the option to develop palates influenced by family, nearby community and the world. At any given meal, many of us can eat at a local establishment and yet partake of cuisine with influence from around the the world. We can eat take-out of almost any kind and most of us know at least a recipe or two to cook up in our own kitchen that isn’t originally from our own ethnic background.

My husband is Estonian. Both of his parents immigrated to the USA following World War II. His first language was Estonian and his early years were spent in a thriving and tight knit Estonian community in Chicago. As in most ethnic communities, opportunities to get together included traditional food.

One Estonian side dish that I delight in is Rosolje [row-sohl-yeh]. My appetite for Rosolje may be one of the little things that contributed to my change of status from out-law to in-law in my husband’s family. I love this salad. It is a complete meal in itself. It contains all kinds of wonderful and nutritious goodies; pickled beets, apples, dill pickles, and sour cream, plus meat and eggs for protein.

When I questioned my mother-in-law about the origins of Rosolje, she shrugged with the common response of someone being questioned about their own cultural traditions “It’s just always been there. My mom made it, then I made it.” Too familiar to question, we had to do a bit of research to learn the history.

Traditionally served in the fall, you may also find this amazing salad anytime of year at any gathering, perfect as a picnic dish, including the summer solstice Jaanipaev celebration, an important Estonia holiday. Rosolje became popular in the 1920’s, originally made with herring (common Estonian fare), it has evolved and each cook adds the meat of her choice. The measurements of each ingredient were hard to pin down, even the published recipes vary in individual amounts per ingredient. When I make it, I do the same guesstimates on measurements and fortunately, my results were given a nod of approval from my mother-in-law, from whom I was gifted the recipe. (Thanks, Tiina.)

The blended flavors of beets, potatoes and pickles continue to please the palate of everyone in our family whenever presented on the table and served with the additional bonus of immigrant heritage pride from my husband and kids.

Here’s the recipe.


Cube the following ingredients:
2 cans of pickled beets (Aunt Nellie’s) Save the juice.
5-6 dill pickles
4 apples (Granny Smith or Golden Delicious)
6 big potatoes – boiled and peeled
3 hard boiled eggs
Cooked cold meat – cooked cold pork roast, smoked turkey or smoked ham are a few of the possibilities. I use ham and have never tried it with the traditional herring. Cube about 1 – 2 cups.

Get some help for cubing (it takes awhile). The expert Estonian cooks say, whatever size you cube the ingredients into, to try to get all of the cubes the same size.

For the dressing:
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard (Colman’s)
Add beet juice until you have the desired pink.
Mix it all together. Refrigerate for several hours.
Serve cold.

Mix dressing to desired pink. Serve cold.