I know it sounds crazy, but salad niçoise takes me back to my time doing fieldwork in Srinagar, Kashmir. A French friend made it for me one weekend afternoon, after a vigorous game of table tennis in the International Committee of the Red Cross headquarters. Although we were in curfewed Kashmir, what struck me about this dish was how humble and readily available its ingredients are. Tuna, eggs, tomatoes, and green beans are all a staple in our household. When these everyday ingredients come together, though, I think they produce a truly excellent salad, which by my definition is one you don’t get tired of eating because each bite is different.
Although you could fancy this up by using fresh tuna steaks, the dish also works well with canned tuna, which is must more easily available (and I hear is how people in Nice eat it). Usually I find salads don’t quite fill me up for dinner, but this makes a hearty and healthy lunch or dinner.
Prep time: 30 minutes
For the vinaigrette:
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 tbsp. fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. capers, rinsed and/or anchovies (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the salad:
1 can of tuna, preferably sustainable. I like the brand Wild Selections. For this recipe, I like tuna packed in olive oil (a little extra richness is nice for a salad), but tuna in water is fine too.
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved
2-4 small red or yellow potatoes, boiled and quartered
1 roma tomato, cored and cut into lengths
8 oz. green beans, ends trimmed and blanched
¼ cup olives (optional)
- Put your eggs and potatoes to boil in separate pots. In the pot with the eggs, bring water to a full, rolling boil. Turn off heat and cover the pan. For firm and creamy hard-boiled eggs, wait 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water. After about a minute, peel and halve. The potatoes will take about 15 minutes to boil and soften.
- In another pot, put water to boil to blanche the beans. While you are waiting, trim the ends of the beans. Once the water is boiling, add the beans and blanche for 2-3 minutes. The beans should still be crunchy. Remove from boiling water and rinse with cold water.
- While your potatoes and eggs are still cooking, prepare the vinaigrette. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, capers, shallot, basil, oregano, and mustard. Season well with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Drain the water/oil from the tuna and fork into a small bowl. Pour 1-2 tbsp. of the vinaigrette on top of the tuna and let sit.
- Assemble the salad. Make a bed of salad greens and lay each ingredient lengthwise, on top. I think this salad looks beautiful when each ingredient is clearly visible and has its own space on the dish. As you place each ingredient on the serving dish, pour a spoonful or two of vinaigrette on top, along with a generous grind of pepper. Cut your potatoes last (they should be finished cooking by now) and add them to the dish.
- Create a little groove in the middle of the dish to place your tuna at the center. Pour the remaining dressing on top and serve!