My husband and I have been renovating our home for the past few months, and with all of the noise, dust, and disruption, cooking has been the last thing on my mind! That being said, we still need to eat, so basically our evening meals are some sort of a salad. I often will grill a batch of the easiest grilled chicken breasts on Sunday to have ready for quick weeknight meal. I also will make a jar of my mustard vinaigrette to have on hand as well. But the truth is, I am getting tired of the same old salad.
Don’t get me wrong. I really love salad, especially in the summertime when the weather is hot. There is nothing like biting into cold crisp lettuce. But I have needed to change it up a bit for a while. And then while I was making tuna salad for lunch the other day, I remembered one of my favorite salads ever – Salad Niçoise. It has a fancy French name, but all it really means is that it’s a salad that originated in the city of Nice, (pronounced “niece”) France.
This salad is really special for a few reasons: it’s actually quite easy to prepare, contrary to what most people think of when the words French and food are in the same sentence. All of the components can be prepared ahead of time and assembled at the last minute, it's gorgeous - and best of all – it is an entrée style salad that is versatile enough to take to a casual afternoon picnic or serve as an elegant entrée at an al fresco dinner party under the stars.
The original is quite simple with just a few ingredients of Nicoise olive, tuna in oil, and raw vegetables with a drizzle of olive oil, and lemon juice. Of course it has morphed over the years into a feast with steamed and chilled potatoes, haricot verts, and even seared ahi tuna being added to the recipe. I happen to like a combination of traditional and more recent ingredients because I love the play of textures, colors and flavors.
The recipe I will give can be adapted to whatever you like best, with the exception of Nicoise olives and tuna – those are a must in order for it to be authentic. Many people like to sear some ahi tuna to replace the tuna packed in oil to make the salad feel more modern, however, I quite prefer the packed tuna, because if I am going to eat ahi tuna, I don’t want it to compete with other ingredients, and I like the texture the packed tuna adds to the overall salad experience. Niçoise olives can be found in many olive bars at the grocery store, but if not, there are many places to order online. They are smaller than many olives and have a very distinctive briny, salty flavor that complement the tuna and vegetables beautifully.
If you are looking to liven up a weeknight meal or wow everyone at the next potluck, this is the salad to bring!
2 jars of tuna packed in olive oil
2 hard boiled eggs
Head of butter or romaine lettuce, cleaned, and left in whole leaf form
1 1/2 cup of cherry/grape tomatoes
1/2 cup Nicosia olives
1-lb. of bite size waxy “new” potatoes, steamed and chilled
1-lb. haricot verts or green beans, ends trimmed, steamed to al dente, and chilled
1 recipe – *mustard vinaigrette
*For this salad, I like to add extra cracked black pepper and 1-1.5 Tablespoons of anchovy paste to the dressing to highlight the tuna
1. Prepare vinaigrette and set aside.
2. Prepare potatoes and green beans, chill.
3. Hard boil eggs – I place eggs in pot, pour water to at least 1 inch over the top – bring to boil – turn heat off, add secure fitting lid and cook for exactly 10 minutes. Immediately drain, and shock in ice water for 5 minutes. Then under cool running water gently peel.
4. Prepare lettuce.
5. Once all ingredients are chilled, arrange in groups on a platter and serve!
Now that you’ve tried this, you can see that French food is really not as difficult to prepare as the names of the dishes often suggest – so perhaps the Passport to Provence class would interest you. You not only make a grilled version of Salad Niçoise, but also a puff pastry tart, soup and delectable Crème Brulee! Join us for this hands-on class on:
- Thursday, August 8 7pm Lincoln Square
- Tuesday, August 20 6pm Merchandise Mart
- Thursday, August 29 7pm Lincoln Square