Salade nicoise is hearty, healthy and delicious

Salads can be satisfying and restorative in the cold weather, especially when layered with protein and sturdy vegetables.

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A salade nicoise is essentially the sum of its ingredients — in this case, parboiled potatoes, al dente green beans, hard-cooked eggs and a smattering of salty, briny garnishes.

A salade nicoise is essentially the sum of its ingredients — in this case, parboiled potatoes, al dente green beans, hard-cooked eggs and a smattering of salty, briny garnishes.

Lynda Balslev/TasteFood

Sometimes we just need a salad, even when it’s really cold outside. Salads can be satisfying and restorative in the cold weather, especially when layered with protein and sturdy vegetables. For an enticing salad respite, a salade nicoise comes to mind.

While this Provencal-inspired salad is easily associated with sipping rose on a sunny terrace on the Cote d’Azur (don’t we wish), a salade nicoise is relatively flexible and composed of heartier ingredients for a light and fresh meal any time of year. The salad traditionally comprises a clockwork of ingredients, artfully arranged on a plate or platter. The co-star of the salad is tuna, and while you may sometimes find a piece of rare ahi tuna perched on your plate, I prefer to use jarred high-quality tuna in olive oil. Yep, the fancy stuff, which incidentally can be purchased in advance and stashed in the pantry, ready for an impulsive weeknight dinner.

Note that the olive oil truly makes a difference and is worth the caloric splurge. Unlike water, oil adds richness, body and lip-smacking flavor to the tuna. And the term “co-star” is correct, because a salade nicoise is essentially the sum of its ingredients — in this case, parboiled potatoes, al dente green beans, hard-cooked eggs, and a smattering of salty, briny garnishes, all of which complement each other beautifully and are bound together by an herby, piquant Dijon vinaigrette.

Salade Nicoise

Yield: Serves 2 as a light main course

INGREDIENTS:

Vinaigrette:

  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pushed through a press
  • 1 teaspoon minced tarragon (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salad:

  • 4 ounces green beans or haricots verts
  • 8 ounces new or small potatoes
  • Butter lettuce leaves
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, halved or quartered
  • 1/2 small English cucumber, with skin, sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 cup halved grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup black olives, such as Kalamata or nicoise
  • 6 ounces tuna fillets in olive oil (half-heartedly drained)
  • 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • Finely grated lemon zest

DIRECTIONS:

1. Whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, tarragon, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. Set aside until use (briefly whisk again before serving).

2. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the beans and cook until bright in color and crisp-tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer to a colander and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.

3. To the same pot, add the potatoes. Bring the water back to a boil, then partially cover the pot and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes, depending on size. Drain and cool. Halve the potatoes and place in a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette and toss to coat.

4. Arrange the lettuce leaves on a serving platter or in a large, shallow serving bowl. Mound the beans, potatoes, egg halves, cucumbers, tomatoes and olives in a clockwise fashion around the plate. Place the tuna in the center. Scatter the onions and capers over the salad, then drizzle with the dressing to your taste. Garnish with parsley and lemon zest and serve immediately.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food and wine writer, cookbook author and recipe developer. She also authors the blog TasteFood, a compilation of more than 600 original recipes, photos and stories.

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