In France, salad comes at the end of the meal. Instead of warming up your palate, it washes everything down, clearing the palate for cheese and dessert. I hated salad with a passion, called it cow food, but was still forced to force down a few token leaves every night before being admitted to the sweet promise land of dessert. Pinching my nose to block the taste helped, but couldn’t block out the sliminess of lettuce leaves coated with vinaigrette. But there was one salad I didn’t mind eating: Salade Nicoise.
I’m no longer moved to tears by the mere sight of lettuce, but I still love Salade Nicoise. What’s not to love about a lettuce-free salad filled with potatoes, barely hard boiled eggs with golden yolks, sweet red tomatoes, salty black olive slices, green beans, and high quality tuna in olive oil? The composite salad is traditional in the South of France and the fresh flavors of Provencal cooking shine and zing in your mouth. The whole thing is drizzled with a light vinaigrette, and every bite is different, yet delicious.
Unfortunately, Salade Nicoise was much too hearty to be served at the end of a regular meal and was reserved for picnics.We spent every summer in the South of France, near my grandmother’s house and had picnics on the beach for lunch. The Salade Nicoise would be assembled right there on the beach, each ingredient pulled out of a giant cooler. While my mom and her sisters would sit and chat under the umbrella, I would run with my sisters and cousins while eating, kicking up a healthy dose of sand to sprinkle my lunch. To this day, I still associate a certain salty crunchiness to Salade Nicoise, a flavor that just complemented the buttery potatoes.
A word on tuna while we’re on the subject. Most tuna in this country is sold in water. I think this is a crying shame. Olive oil packed tuna has such a decadent richness and the oil tones down the fishiness and brings out delicious notes in the tuna. When making this salad, you could reach for tuna packed in water, but you’ll be taking the end result down to an inferior level. This is not tuna that’s going to get buried in mayonnaise. It needs to shine on its own. Hunt for tuna packed in oil. No need to splurge on an imported can close to $10 (although you could and it would make a memorable tuna), get down low at your supermarket and hunt for that one can of tuna that’s packed in olive oil, search the international aisle if you need to. I promise it’s worth the effort.
When composing the picnic menu for Anthony Anderson last week, Salade Nicoise was my first dish choice. It’s not only pretty and colorful, but it’s a perfect picnic food, made for picking while playing around. I didn’t know how Juju would react to this new dish, but after picking off the tuna, she tucked right in, digging for her favorite ingredients first, proving that with this new generation, Salade Nicoise is a salad for kids.
- 1 can of tuna packed in olive oil
- 2 tomatoes
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup of green beans
- 1 cup of baby red potatoes
- ½ cup of sliced black olives
- 1 lemon
- ¼ cup of olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of mustard
- 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- Fill two small saucepans with water. Place the green beans in one and the potatoes in the over. Bring both to a boil and cook the green beans for another 5 minutes and the potatoes for another 10 minutes. You should be able to put a knife tip easily through the potato when they are done.
- Drain the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Put both the potatoes and the green beans at the bottom of your salad bowl.
- Fill one of the saucepans back with water. Put both eggs at the bottom of the pan. Bring to a strong boil. Turn off the heat and leave in pan for another 90 seconds. Remove from the hot water and run under cold water. When cool enough to handle, peel the egg and cut into quarters. Set aside.
- Cut the tomatoes into quarters as well. Add to the bowl.
- Add the cut olives to the salad bowl.
- Now mix the vinaigrette. Squeeze the juice of half of the lemon into a small bowl. Add the mustard and the vinegar. Drizzle in the olive oil and beat aggressively with a fork to emulsify the vinaigrette. It should look creamy. Salt and pepper to taste. Then taste, make sure the proportions are good, adjust if necessary. When you love it, pour it over the salad and toss gently.
- Layer the tuna and the egg quarters on top of the mixed salad. Serve cold.