Salad niçoise, but not really
In what seems like the country’s attempt to remain forever predictable, most of France is currently on or preparing for vacation. The French school system here is generally planned so that the kids repeat the pattern of having 7 or so weeks on, followed by 2 weeks off. My host parents said it is good because the kids are tired and are “ready for vacation”—and hey, I’m not complaining because vacation means the kids are whisked off to the countryside, and that means one thing and one thing only: I’m on vacation, too!
Not much has really changed for me, seeing as I don’t see the kids until around 4:30 every day anyway. But it’s the mindset of it all: I am free, and have no obligations to be anywhere at any time. That, along with the fact that my classes have also paused for these two weeks, has kind of prompted me to rediscover Paris during the day.
I realize part of it is the psychological shift in thinking of it all (I’m free!!), but the whole city really has been beautiful these past few days. The sun has been shining, and I’ve even discovered that part of the city does in fact make an appearance of Fall. (Erm, this goes against my previous complaints that this city doesn’t know how to “do” Fall. I’m sorry, Paris. I should’ve never doubted you.)
The Champ de Mars, the garden in front of the Eiffel Tower, has beautiful pathways bordered by orange trees, and the Jardin Luxembourg is stunning right now. I thought the gardens wouldn’t translate into Fall—I figured something about the palm trees would feel weird—but I didn’t realize how big the park was and how gorgeous it would look as the trees turned colors next to the statues, fountains, and beautiful flowers. It’s all been really nice.
Anyway, my free days have not only forced me to take advantage of Paris and all of its seasonal beauty, but it’s also made me want to have more leisurly, thoughtful lunches and dinners. I guess it must be something having to do with the fact that I’m not always eating when I’m famished following classes or when I’m trying to cater to 4-year-old tastes. Tonight for dinner I had a toasted slice of pain de mie, topped with some cured salmon and a still-runny poached egg. (One day I’d like to do that over again, only next time I’ll take a stab at some homemade hollandaise sauce to make an eggs benedict of sorts.) And today for lunch, I made the niçoise-inspired salad you see here.
I think it’s obvious that this isn’t the authentic version of the famous salad. This salad was a result of me being practical and trying to use what was in the kitchen, and this is what I ended up with: boiled new potatoes, tender green beans (not squeaky, please), a hard-boiled egg, some flaked tuna, all on top of some soft mâche lettuce greens. If I were to make this a true salade niçoise, I think I’d have to include in some fresh, ripe tomatoes, a few strips of anchovies, some salty brined olives, and some thinly sliced onions. (Side note: I really, really enjoyed reading this article of Nigel Slater’s regarding how to make a perfect salade niçoise.)
For the most part, though, I haven’t the slightest guilt about presenting you with a misleading version of salade niçoise. I think in my earlier days, I would have made a trip to the store in the attempts to present what is “classic”—you know, for the sake of the blog. But that seems a little silly and trivial to me know. The whole purpose of this salad was to feed me for lunch and it did a pretty fine job of that, honestly.
A memory I have from the summertime reminds me of the importance, or rather the lack of importance, of creating the true rendition of famous dish. In one of my first few days here, my host mom served a salad for dinner that included sliced baby potatoes, cooked haricots verts, and tuna, like the ingredients you see here. She mixed it all together with store-bought botteled blue cheese dressing, and you know what? It tasted damn good. I don’t think she would have in a million years called that salad niçoise, but her goal was not to show me an authentic dish but rather to cook up a quick and delicious dinner for her, her husband, and me. Who cares what it’s called, or if it has a name?
The basic elements of a salad niçoise are flavors that I really love. Salty, briny, fresh: oil-packed tuna, creamy young potatoes and hard-boiled eggs, olives and anchovies, tender green beans and tomatoes… these are all good things. But as much as I love the classic additions in the salad, not having them on my plate for lunch didn’t mean that my salad or my host mom’s from the summer were unable to make fine meals. Besides, I should note that I think the compilation of all the classic flavors taste best in the summertime, um, preferably when you’re in the Cote D’Azur. (And it is important to note that even when you’re there you’ll find a million different variations on the salad.) I’m thinking this spartan-version of the salad is maybe more fitting for this time of year, anyway. Something would feel wrong if I made the “authentic” version and ate it with the leaves turning color outside…
I am going to write out the recipe to include all of its most classic elements—even the ones I left out for convenience and practicality’s sake. Because these are the ingredients I would choose to put in the salad, in an ideal world. Also, this is seriously a completely lazy-blogger move, but I’m not going to list amounts for the ingredients in the salad. I don’t know how much a pound of potatoes looks like and so I’m not even going to try guessing precise amounts.
I think the salad is best when all elements are cold, and this makes this salad the perfect plan-ahead meal. Cook the potatoes, beans, and eggs ahead of time and store them in the fridge for later use.
mixed greens, rinsed and dried
small new potatoes, skins on, boiled in salted water until tender
haricot verts, ends trimmed, blanched in salted water until tender
fresh tomatoes, sliced
black briny olives
salt-packed anchovies, drained
hard-boiled eggs, halved lengthwise
thinly sliced red onion, white onion, or scallions
simple french dressing
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
a heaped teaspoon of dijon mustard
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup or 100 ml good olive oil
Arrange the mixed greens in a serving platter or shallow dish. Arrange the remaining ingredients on top, in whatever way you’d like. I think it looks prettiest, though, when you can see all of the individual elements lined up.
To make the dressing, combine the garlic, vinegar, mustard, and a couple good pinches of salt and pepper in a small jar. Add the oil, close tightly with a lid, and shake until the mixture is combined. Alternatively, you should whisk in the oil if you don’t have a small handy jar lying around. Pour on top of the salad, to taste.