If ever I see Salad Niςoise on the menu, my choice might just as well have been made for me. Every other listing on the menu gets obscured behind shower-glass. I can’t quite make it out. Reading glasses don’t help. That’s how much I love Salad Niςoise!
The first time I tried this salad, years ago, I prepared it myself. Even though as newlyweds we were counting pennies, I was wanting, so badly, a new cookbook – something really amazing to add to my “library” of two. (Or was it only one?) I’m still kind of perplexed at my choice, because I had next to no experience in the kitchen, but I thought at the time my selection made sense. “Why not start at the top and learn from Julia Child? She has her own TV show! And she speaks French! She probably knows just about everything.” It was blind luck I suppose that I stumbled upon this salad before trying my hand at (deflating) a souffle, or braising beef tongue for Pot-au-feu (gag reflex), or making oeufs en gélee (poached eggs in aspic, if you can imagine!) I fear I never would have found Salad Niςoise if I hadn’t happened upon it before the others! Over the years, it’s undergone a few changes – but nothing major. Some things just possess that kind of status. They’ve earned their place. It’s the sort of thing that you’re a bit awed at the very sight of, you dip your head with respect, allow for a moment of silent appreciation, give in to the smile that’s forcing its way up, then raise two forks and begin! (OK, just one.) For me, that’s Salad Niςoise. It gets me every time.
Tuna Salad Niςoise
(serves 4 main course meals)
This salad originated in Nice, France. It’s fresh, clean, light, summery, deliciously lemony, a little salty here and there…and is one of those things that’s far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a composed dish – arranged in any manner that suits the artist – that would be you. The key though is to treat each component in a way that brings out the delicious best in it. The ingredients that are cooked are done so separately, and most are then tossed in a little vinaigrette before being arranged on the platter. The components of this salad can ALL be prepared ahead of time, put in their own containers, loaded in the cooler and taken on a picnic, then artfully assembled on site! Can’t you just hear Julia now? “Tres chic picnic!”
I happen to love seared Ahi. Rare. For me, a little satisfies deeply. But, if you don’t have access to it, or aren’t enamored of it, you can use a good canned albacore tuna – when packed in extra virgin olive oil its taste is very good. For years, I bought tuna packed in water, but I’ve learned since that loss of flavor is the price you pay for that exchange. Because more of you will probably opt for the canned tuna, I’ll write the recipe for that. If seared ahi is your preference, I’m assuming you’ll know just what to do – sear in very hot pan one minute or so per side.
- 1 clove garlic, minced (or to your taste)
- 3 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoon wine vinegar (not balsamic)
- 1-1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard or 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt & Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Fresh or dried herbs – especially fresh thyme leaves
Make a smooth paste of the minced garlic, combined with the salt. Whisk in lemon juice and wine vinegar. Add mustard. Slowly whisk in olive oil, or place it all in a lidded jar and shake until emulsified.
- 1 head butter lettuce
- 1 bunch watercress (optional)
- 8 plum tomatoes, cut in 1/2 lengthwise, (tossed with 2 T. olive oil & 1 T. balsamic vinegar)
- 5 – 10 sprigs of thyme or lemon thyme
- 1- 6 or 7 oz. can of albacore tuna in extra-virgin olive oil (preferably troll caught)
- 3/4 pounds fingerling potatoes (or small white or Yukon Gold potatoes)
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, cut in half
- 1/3 cup (or more) Niςoise olives
- 1/2 pound fresh green string beans
- 5 anchovies packed in salt (or a 2-oz. tin of flat fillets in olive oil) – Optional !
- lemon cut in wedges for serving
Serving suggestion: Serve with toasted crusty bread drizzled with olive oil.
I’m about to give you directions for slow-roasting the tomatoes with olive oil and thyme. They’re really delicious this way, and add a different dimension to this salad, but if you haven’t the time, or would just prefer them un-roasted, then skip to the next step.
Roasting tomatoes. Prepeat oven to 300°F. In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with 2 T. olive oil and 1 T. balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a cooking sheet lined with parchment paper and place cut side down, with a sprig of fresh thyme tucked beneath. Bake for 45 minutes or 1 hour, or until tomatoes are “sun-dried” and lightly caramelized. Read more