While dining in Northern European countries I became fond of colorful combination salads made with vegetables, meat, poultry or seafood and bound with well-seasoned dressings. Although customarily served as appetizers, these salads are excellent entrees for light meals.

In Europe piquant salads have long been favorite dishes of a premeal galaxy that began as the Viking cold board and was expanded into the Scandinavian smorgasbord Russian zakusky and German Vorspeises .

These innovative salads were originally made with staple foods such as seafood, particularly herring but also shrimp, salmon and white-fleshed fish, leftover cooked game, beef, pork and chicken, and cold cooked or raw vegetables, especially beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes, cucumbers, mushrooms and onions.

Flavorings were achieved with the addition of pickled foods, apples, hard-cooked eggs, capers and such seasonings as vinegar, mustard, sugar, dill and parsley. Dressings were made with heavy cream, sour cream and/or mayonnaise or vinegar and oil. Some are sweet-sour but all are piquant.

What is particularly pleasing about the salads is the subtle contrast of flavors, colors and textures. The salty flavor of herring, for example, is enhanced by the sweet flavor of red beets.

Home cooks usually prepare these traditional salads without recipes, using whatever is on hand. The preparation may be simple, or for a special occasion, may be expanded into an impressive preparation made with a wide variety of ingredients and ornately garnished.

These salads gain extra flavor by marinating the ingredients in the dressing. Therefore it is best to leave them in the refrigerator at least one hour before serving and to serve thoroughly chilled. If put on lettuce leaves, do so just before serving. FINNISH SILLISALAATI (4 to 6 servings) 1 jar (8 ounces) pickled herring, skinned and diced 1 1/2 cups diced cooked potatoes 1 cup diced cooked beets 1 cup diced cooked carrots 1 medium tart apple, peeled, cored and diced 2 gherkins, diced 1/2 cup heavy cream 2 tablespoons vinegar 2 teaspoons sharp mustard 1 teaspoon sugar Salt, pepper to taste

Combine herring, potatoes, beets, carrots, apple and gherkins in a medium bowl. Mix together remaining ingredients.Add to herring-vegetable mixture and mix well. To serve, shape into a mound on a large plate and garnish with sliced hard-cooked eggs, if desired. This salad can also include cold cooked meats. DUTCH HUSSAR'S SALAD (4 to 6 servings) 2 cups diced cold cooked beef, veal or pork 2 cups diced cooked potatoes 1 cup cooked green peas 1 medium onion, peeled and diced 2 tablespoons pickle relish 2 hard-cooked eggs, shelled and chopped 1 medium apple, peeled, cored and diced 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley or 1/2 teaspoon dried 1/4 cup vegetable oil 2 tablespoons wine vinegar Salt, pepper to taste Lettuce leaves 3/4 cup mayonnaise (about) 1 ripe tomato, peeled and sliced 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Combine meat, potatoes, peas, onion, relish, eggs and apple in a large bowl. Mix together parsley, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add to meat-vegetable mixture. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Arrange lettuce leaves on a serving dish. Top with salad. Cover with a coating of mayonnaise. Decorate with tomato slices and chopped fresh parsley. RUSSIAN CHICKEN-VEGETABLE SALAD (6 servings) 2 cups diced cooked chicken 1 cup diced cooked potatoes 1 cup diced raw zucchini or cooked green beans 1/2 cup diced radishes 1/2 cup diced mushrooms 1/2 cup diced cucumbers 1/2 cup mayonnaise 1/2 cup sour cream 1 tablespoon lemon juice 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dried dill Salt, pepper to taste Garnishes: Chopped fresh parsley, sliced cooked beets, hard-cooked egg wedges, cooked shrimp

Combine chicken, potatoes, zucchini radishes, mushrooms and cucumbers in a large bowl. Mix together mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper and add to chicken-vegetable mixture. Mix well and spoon into a serving dish. Garnish top with chopped parsley and put other garnishes around the salad. VIENNESE POTATO SALAD WITH SOUR CREAM (6 to 8 servings) 4 medium boiled potatoes, diced 1/2 cup diced green pepper 1/2 cup diced celery 1/2 cup sliced green onions, with some tops 3 hard-cooked eggs, shelled and chopped 1 1/4 cups sour cream 2 tablespoons vinegar 1/2 teaspoon dried dill Salt, pepper to taste 1/4 teaspoon paprika 1 large ripe tomato, peeled and cut into wedges

Combine potatoes with green pepper, celery, onions and eggs in a large bowl and toss together lightly. Combine sour cream, vinegar, dill, salt and pepper. Add to potato mixture and mix together. Allow to stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes to blend flavors or chill in refrigerator a few hours. To serve, spoon into a serving dish. Sprinkle on top with paprika and surround with tomato wedges. Add diced cooked chicken or turkey and additional sour cream, if desired.