Holy moley, look at the temperature out there! It’s been hovering near 100 for a week. Not when you want to heat up the house with cooking. It is definitely salad time. So last night I fell back on an old favorite: Salade Nicoise, a French composed salad.
As with so many iconic dishes, there is massive debate about what exactly constitutes an “authentic” Salade Nicoise. Should it have tuna, or anchovies, or both? Can the tuna be fresh, or must it be canned? Is it acceptable to cook any of the vegetables? Those are just a few of the raging questions.
My take on it? “Authentic” is a false idol. Make what you love, with quality ingredients – a debate in itself, of course – and the result will be authentic to you. Which is all that matters.
That said, I learned to make this from a Mark Bittman cookbook, and my take is entirely colored by that. These are the ingredients that must be present for me to consider a salad “Salade Nicoise”: tuna, fresh or canned, but delicious enough either way to stand alone; potatoes, cooked enough to be tender but not mushy (waxy red or yellow work best); lettuce (not a necessity in the dish’s native France, it seems); olives, preferably Nicoise or Kalamata or both; and a vinaigrette pungent with mustard and garlic.
Almost as important but not 100% necessary are steamed fresh green beans, hard-boiled egg, and tomato. Nice additions include red peppers, asparagus (especially in the absence of green beans), and avocado. Oh, and anchovy, if you like it. Feel free to add onion or fresh herbs or capers or anything else that floats your boat, really. No one’s keeping score.
Once all those things are piled in a bowl together, the results are a surprisingly hefty – and quite delicious – dinner. With the added blessing, on a day like today, that if you cook the green beans and potato in the microwave, you haven’t heated up the kitchen at all.
Several handfuls of clean, dry lettuce
1 can or jar good-quality tuna, or seared and sliced fresh tuna
1 small to medium waxy potato, sliced or cut in batons and steamed in the microwave
10 to 16 olives, Kalamata or Nicoise or what’s on hand
1 handful green beans, trimmed and steamed
1 or two hard-boiled eggs, shelled and halved
Tomatoes, whatever is best (sun-dried in a pinch), cut in manageable pieces if needed
1/2 ripe avocado, sliced (optional)
Fresh or roasted red pepper, sliced (optional)
A few spears steamed asparagus (optional)
2 canned anchovy fillets (optional)
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Good pinch salt
Freshly ground pepper
Place the lettuce in two bowls, then arrange the other salad ingredients on top. I like to keep the ingredients in like bunches, except the olives, which I scatter around. Usually I put the potato in the middle with the tuna on top of it – but arrange it however looks pretty to you.
Place the dressing ingredients in a small (but not tiny, you need room to whisk) bowl. Whisk until emulsified, then pour over the salad. (Or, for traditionalists, place all the ingredients but oil in the bowl and whisk while drizzling the oil in.) This may make a little more than you need, so pour mindfully and remember you can add later but not take away. Serve soon after adding the dressing.
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