Before I get to this beautiful and delicious Nicoise Salad aka Salade Nicoise aka Salad Nicoise, and an amazing vinaigrette to go with it, a quick ramble..
Isn’t that the norm with me these days?
So, here I am again. Life has thrown some nasty curve balls at me and loved ones the past month, so I haven’t been able to concentrate on cooking, baking, writing, and really LIVING. I’m basically on auto-pilot, functioning as best I can.
However, I managed to take some photos of lunch, a lunch I made intentionally to take part in Monthly Mingle, founded by the lovely Meeta, of What’s for Lunch, Honey? This month, my friend, the equally lovely Jamie, of Life’s a Feast, is hosting Monthly Mingle, and the theme she chose is April In Paris, which basically means make something French, sweet or savory.
Initially, before everything happened, visions of profiteroles filled with a unique mousse, or crepes suzette, danced through my head. I wanted to keep it classic, but I was going to go completely postal on the fancy factor. As mentioned above, life got in the way, so I needed to keep it quick and simple. I’ve existed on take-out, oatmeal, and yogurt the past 3 weeks or so, except for the occasional salad I whip up, only because it’s easy. Outside of searing the tuna for this Nicoise Salad, I haven’t cooked or baked in a month. Last time that happened was after my knee surgery a few years ago and many, many years before that.
So, here’s a salad; a classic French salad called a Salad (or salade?) Nicoise (Most commonly called Nicoise Salad in the US). It’s pronounced Ni-Swahz, not Ni-Coy or Ni-Kwa, but if you hear someone call it Ni-Coy or Ni-Kwa, don’t correct them in front of people or laugh at them because it’s freakin’ embarrassing. OK, maybe find a way to correct them without correcting them..like…
“Mmm..a Salad Ni-swahz sounds delicious – maybe I’ll have one too!”
…OR, just whisper “Ni-swahz” to them. Up until the age of 22, I called potpourri, POT – pourri instead of POH-pourri. I was mor-teee-fied when a new boyfriend’s sister corrected me upon first meeting his family, in front of his whole family.
I’m feeling very PC today.
That being said, the Nicoise salad originated in Nice, France, and traditionally everything should be raw, using a good quality canned tuna in oil, but it’s morphed over the years into different versions, the most common containing fresh, seared tuna, blanched green beans (usually haricots verts; the skinny green beans) and roasted, steamed or boiled potatoes. As usual, I took some liberties and added some not so traditional ingredients to this Nicoise salad and made a few slight changes.
First off, those of you who read this blog know I have a thing for rainbows, but not in a rainbows, unicorns and lollipops way; I’m just attracted to the sequence of colors and love to see that sequence incorporated into food. I’m absolutely crazy about those gorgeous, mile-high rainbow cakes you see all over the food blogosphere, but all that food color in one cake bugs me.
I don’t mind using it in small amounts, like for macarons, and even red velvet cake; it’s just that these cakes are 6-layers of food color! Food color is not a flavor, so that’s a lot of food color with no flavor pay-off. However, I have been devising a way to make one those cakes using homemade fruit syrups and/or dehydrated fresh fruit powders to color each layer of cake batter, sort of like THIS BEAUTY.
Obviously, this will make it a lot more laborious, not to mention probably not as vibrant as the ones made with food color, but I think my little experiment will be worth it for a special occasion. Knock wood, err..formica soon to be marble.
I turned this Salad Nicoise (or Nicoise salad) into a rainbow. Red tomatoes, Orange carrots, Yellow bell peppers and egg yolks, Green beans, Blue potatoes, Violet (well, purplish) olives. There’s your Roy G. Biv, minus the Indigo because I don’t think blue and purple need Indigo squished between them – too similar either way. I placed the tuna where I could fit the most slices, the rareness a lovely dark magenta, although my knife wasn’t sharp enough, hence the raggedy cuts.
Man, I need to get on the ball with sharpening my knives.
Anyway, I think this Nicoise salad looks beautiful. The ‘rainbow’ rows lie on a bed of tender, baby spinach leaves tossed with a little of the vinaigrette. I used bagged baby spinach leaves because the leaves are already washed (of course I washed them again), and as mentioned above, everything has to be easy at this time. BUT, truth be told, a Salade Nicoise (or Nicoise salad) does take a little more time than your average salad to put together.
Oh, how could I forget? The anchovies. I love the flavor of anchovies, but I don’t love biting into hairy, whole anchovy filets. When I cook them into sauces or use them in salads, I chop them very fine, then saute them until they melt into the oil, or simply grind them to a paste and add them to a salad dressing. This is what I did for the dressing for the Salade Nicoise (or Nicoise salad. Sorry, I have to keep giving the option.). Instead of placing them whole, on top of the Nicoise salad, which is traditional, I did something similar to how you make a Caesar dressing, minus the coddled egg, but with red or white wine vinegar, shallots, a little honey, mustard and herbs.
To put it simply, this vinaigrette is divine.
You can serve this Nicoise salad on 4 separate plates, or one big platter that everyone can share, passing the dressing, which is what I did. However, I didn’t have a platter big enough (only 12-inches across) to fit the full amounts of each ingredient, so I just lined everything up in rows with as much that would fit. I’m sure you all have bigger platters than mine, so no worries.
By the way, are the blue potatoes not gorgeous? What a deep, stunning blue hue (I almost want to wax poetic on just blue hue). I wish I could get these potatoes year ’round because they not only excite me, but I really need to make blue mashed potatoes..as much as possible..and yes, I have no life!
- ¼ cup red or white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1-2 tablespoons honey (taste and add second tablespoon if needed)
- 1¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (I used light olive oil, but for those who like a stronger olive flavor, extra-virgin is perfect)
- 1 large shallot, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 to 3 anchovy filets, chopped
- pinch of Kosher salt
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 6 ounces baby spinach leaves
- 1 pint red grape or teardrop tomatoes
- 4 carrots, peeled
- 2 yellow bell peppers
- 4 hard boiled eggs
- ½ lb haricots verts (skinny French green beans), ends snapped off
- 1 lb small blue or purple potatoes *
- ½ lb nicoise or any small black or purple olives
- 1 lb tuna steak, or two ½ lb tuna steaks, super fresh, sushi-grade (about 4 oz per person) - if you prefer it well done, it doesn't have to be sushi-grade
- Olive oil
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Make the vinaigrette. Finely chop the garlic together with the chopped anchovies and a pinch of kosher salt, to almost a paste. Add to jar with a tight lid, along with the rest of the ingredients - shake vigorously. If you're using a bowl, add all ingredients to the bowl except the olive oil, and while whisking, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can also make the vinaigrette in a food processor, drizzling in the olive oil while the other ingredients chop, but you'll get a thicker, creamy dressing. Not a bad thing; your choice. If you have time..let this vinaigrette sit at room temperature for an hour or more to let the flavors meld. Even better, make it the day before. then put it in the fridge overnight. Take it out, let come to room temperature, and shake again before serving.
- Boil the eggs. Bring a medium pot of salted water and the eggs (water should be 1-inch over the eggs and the eggs should fit on the bottom in one layer..no overlapping) to a rolling boil, remove from the heat, and cover tightly for 12 minutes. Once the 12 minutes are up, remove the eggs and peel under running, cold water. Put the peeled eggs in a bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the fridge until ready to assemble the salad.
- In a ziplock bag or bowl which you will cover tightly with plastic wrap, pour about ¼ cup of the vinaigrette over the tuna steaks and let marinate in the fridge for one hour, turning after ½ hour.
- WASH all of the vegetables well, scrubbing the potatoes (water only). Bring a large pot of heavily salted water and the whole potatoes, unpeeled, to a boil. Boil for about 15 minutes (less if they're small) until tender. Remove from boiling water and let cool. Slice and toss with a some of the vinaigrette.
- Peel the yellow peppers with a vegetable peeler (you don't have to peel them, I just like to for certain salads). Cut them open, scrape out the seeds and any white pith, then cut into strips or bite-sized pieces. Peel the carrots, then shred them on a grater or use the shredding disk in your food processor. Toss all the vegetables, separately. with a little of the vinaigrette. Snap the ends off the green beans and bring another pot of salted water to a boil.
- Fill a bowl with cold water and lots of ice. Place the green beans in the boiling water and let boil for 30 seconds to 2 minutes - 3 at the most, depending on the thickness of your beans. Haricots verts shouldn't need more than 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Strain the green beans, then dump them all into the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and keep them bright green. Let them cool completely in the water, then remove, dry, and toss with some of the vinaigrette.
- Heat a medium saute pan or skillet until hot, Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, Remove the tuna steak or steaks from the marinade. Shake off excess marinade, then dab steaks with a clean tea towel to dry them. Season each side well with kosher salt and black pepper. Place the steak(s) into the pan and let sear on every side for 1 to 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the tuna, and how rare you prefer it. I cooked mine less than one minute per side, (I like it very rare, but you can cook it all the way through to well done, if you like - 3 minutes per side, again depending on the thickness of the tuna) . If necessary, h old the steak up with tongs to sear the sides around both flat surfaces. Remove from pan and let sit for about 10 minutes. Once rested, slice into strips, about ¼ to ½ - inch thick.
- Assemble salad. Toss the baby spinach leaves with some of the vinaigrette, then divide the spinach equally between four plates, or pile onto one big platter. In the following order, lay out rows of the grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, yellow peppers, hard-boiled eggs - quartered vertically, green beans, sliced tuna, blue or purple potatoes sliced or cut how you like, and olives. Pass the dressing and serve with a nice, warm, crusty baguette and butter.