Salad Nicoise is a composed salad, which basically means that the various ingredients are arranged on the plate as opposed to all being tossed together.
This is usually not the way I prefer to make salad, but I do love this salad; I love the different colours and textures.
I did forget to buy olives, which is one of the traditional ingredients, and I chose to add some avocado as I had a couple of nice perfectly ripe ones to use.
The addition of spinach is also my choice, as I had a nice big bag of it, washed and ready to use.
As for everything else, there were two hard boiled eggs in the fridge (I keep them on hand for snacks), two red potatoes, some green beans and a beautiful, ripe red tomato. All I needed was the tuna, which I was lucky enough to find for a reasonable price...dinner for three people under $20, and a whole lots of things used up. What could be better?
Make the dressing by whisking together:
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/3 cup olive oil
Season to taste and adjust the acidity by adding more lemon juice or a bit of honey.
Cut 2 large red potatoes into wedges, and cook in lightly salted boiling water until just tender.
Drain, and cool for a few minutes. Gently toss with a bit of dressing, just enough to coat the potatoes and set them aside to cool.
Prepare the rest of the ingredients for the salad:
Peel 2 hardboiled eggs, and cut into wedges
Trim and blanch green beans, running under cold water to stop them from overcooking
Cut tomato wedges
Wash spinach leaves
Marinate the tuna steaks in a bit of the dressing for 10 - 15 minutes.
I had 2 steaks, each about 3/4" thick for a total weight of 12 ounces.
Heat a non-stick pan until it is very hot.
Place the tuna steaks into the pan and allow the first side to sear.
When you can see the colour change on the side of the steak, as shown, turn the steak to sear the second side.
The steaks cook really quickly, about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes per side, depending on the thickness.
The dark stripe in the middle indicates that the tuna is cooked rare, as it should be.
Remove the tuna from the heat, and allow it to rest while you prepare the salad.
Lightly toss the spinach and blanched green beans in some of the remaining dressing.
Start to assemble the salads on the plates.
Place spinach and green beans in the centre and the potatoes, tomatoes and eggs around the outside.
Thinly slice the tuna, cutting across the grain.
Lay the slices on top of the spinach.
Place a few thin slices of avocado on top of the tuna.
Drizzle the remaining dressing over the potatoes, tomatoes and egg.
- The dressing is quite acidic; to cut the acidity add honey, more oil or use some vinegar instead of all lemon juice. I like the intensity of the dressing as it is. When it is absorbed by the potato and tossed with the greens the effect of the lemon juice is lessened.
- The key to the potatoes is to gently toss them with some of the dressing while they are still warm. This way the dressing is absorbed by the potatoes, and penetrates the flesh instead of just coating the outside.
- The way I hardboil my eggs is to place them into a pot and cover them with cold water. Bring it to a gentle boil and time it for 10 minutes. Immediately run under cold water until the eggs are cold enough to hold and peel.
- Another method of boiling eggs is to place them into a pot and cover with cold water. Bring it to a boil, turn off the heat, cover and leave for 15 - 30 minutes. As the water cools, the eggs continue to cook.
- Grape or cherry tomatoes, whole or halved can be used, as can yellow, orange or heirloom tomatoes in all their beautiful colours.
- Make sure the green beans are blanched for no more than 30 seconds, to avoid overcooking them. Running them under cold water will stop the cooking process, leaving you with crisp beans.
- I used washed baby spinach. Mixed greens can also be used. The greens can also be omitted.
- Traditionally black Nicoise olives are also included; so are anchovies. I really like anchovies, but not a lot of people do. A few ways to include them are to add mashed anchovies to the dressing; mash them with softened butter and black pepper and spread onto sliced baguette, baking to make crostini to serve with the salad; soak the anchovies in a bit of milk to remove some of the salt, and then dredge them in flour and shallow fry until crispy.
- Marinating the tuna in the dressing keeps the flavour profile consistent throughout the salad. The lemon juice also starts the cooking process by starting to break down the meat.
- Fresh tuna is best served rare; if overcooked it will become very dry and unpalatable. The dark stripe that you see on the side of the steak once both sides are seared lets you know that it is not overcooked. If that stripe disappears then your tuna could be dry inside.
- The salad can be made with other fish, or meat such as chicken breast or pork tenderloin. Technically it won't be a salad Nicoise, but it will still be a colourful, tasty salad, perfect for lunch or dinner.