Tonight, we had a Salade Nicoise, which is something that you put together, more than something you cook. Though, there is more cooking than it would seem – but you don’t need to leave it all to just before you eat. In fact, you shouldn’t leave it all to the last minute because all of the elements of the dish, with the exception of the vinaigrette, should be chilled.
The salad’s cooked ingredients are hard boiled eggs, blanched green beans, boiled potatoes and seared tuna. All can be cooked ahead and put in the fridge for hours before fixing the salad. The main course is the essence of healthy (I guess, that is, if you don’t include the mercury in the tuna).
There are literally thousands of recipes out there for Salade Nicoise. They are usually variations on a theme: fresh vegetables, including string beans, with hard boiled eggs, potatoes and tuna. Some use lettuce, some don’t. Some have anchovies, some don’t. You can use more types of vegetables, or fewer. In fact, you don’t really need a recipe, more a guideline. I think I’ll add my method to the throngs.
My favorite versions of Salade Nicoise include fresh tuna. It is a real treat to have fresh tuna and it makes the salad seem more special. The market had some nice ahi tuna today, so we splurged and had that. Since J does not like tuna, she had her salad with some grilled chicken. J was ravenous and heaped her plate with salad. She and L swam long distances today as part of a “lap-a-thon” to benefit their swim team. L was initially unsure as to whether she would like the seared tuna. She unhesitatingly tried it and loved it. L was so hungry that she had some chicken, too.
Note that if you use canned tuna, use the kind packed in olive oil. It has so much more flavor and is much less dry than the kind packed in water. Sure, it has more calories. To combat that, drain it well, eat less of it and eat slower. You’ll be happier.
We were actually five for dinner tonight. A good friend joined us. S opened up a nice bottle of wine and we sat outside with our big salad, talking and laughing for a long time. The breeze gently arrived and the weather cooled off. We all shared a Serendipity “frozen hot chocolate” for dessert. Mom and Dad and my grandmother have given us packets of a mix to make this decadent concoction. It zaps you right back to the famous eatery on East 60th Street, NYC, and makes you feel 10 years old again.
Here is how I put the healthy part of our dinner together.
1 head Butter Lettuce, rinsed, dried and torn into bite sized leaves
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut into 4 wedges each
1/2 lb. green beans (preferably french haricots verts), steamed to crisp tender
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges (or 1 cup cherry tomatoes)
1/2 cucumber, peeled and sliced
8 small red new potatoes, steamed and cut into 4 wedges each
1 large rib of celery, sliced thinly
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 red pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
1 lb. fresh tuna, about 1 inch thick (or 2 cans tuna packed in olive oil)
nicoise olives (or kalamata, just promise you won’t use blah black olives)
Shallot Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Arrange lettuce on a platter. Top with the eggs and vegetables as decoratively as you choose.
If using the fresh tuna, pour a few drops of olive oil onto each side and spread so that the tuna is lightly oiled. Season the fish with salt and freshly ground black pepper (use pepper liberally) on each side. Heat a heavy pan over high heat. When the pan is very hot (a flick of water into the pan dances around as soon as it touches the surface), add about 1 tsp. of olive oil to the pan. Put in the tuna and sear it for about 60 seconds on each side for rare (more time if you’d like it more done). Alternatively, grill on a barbeque in the same manner.
Slice the tuna between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick, across the grain. Arrange that over the vegetables.
Drizzle vinaigrette (recipe below) over the salad and serve, with more dressing on the side.
[I didn’t feel like climbing up to the cabinet that holds our large platters, so I put the salad in a large bowl, arranged the vegetables on top and served the tuna and chicken separately – you know that whole contamination thing with kids. This worked well and everyone served themselves then put the dressing on as they wanted. J doesn’t like shallot vinaigrette, yet, and prefers to put her own oil and vinegar on her salad. This is a small sacrifice for me to get her to eat salad, which is relatively new in her repetoire.]
makes about 1/2 cup
1 tbsp. minced shallots
1 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried tarragon, crumbled
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a jar, combine the shallots, mustard, salt, pepper and tarragon. Let sit for about 5 minutes. Add the olive oil. Put the lid on the jar and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. That’s it.