“Eating well is in the blood. An appreciation of the glories of the table, of good ingredients well prepared, is in the blood.” –Anthony Bourdain from his Les Halles cookbook
Unquestionably saddened by the passing of this inspiring chef who gave so much to the culinary world through his honest and humorous writing, insatiable hunger to explore and learn, and his love of food, cultures, and people worldwide.
I say “Niçoise inspired” because the purists will come for me otherwise (Tony would balk at my take no doubt)! There are no anchovies present. I didn’t opt for tuna. I added far more “extras” than a traditionalist would find acceptable. I mean no disrespect…but the salad evolved as I prepared it and I’m inclined to follow my cravings.
To be honest, I found so many variations on the “traditional” recipe I wouldn’t know where to begin. Some say tomatoes, anchovies, and olive oil—nothing more. Others include olives, artichokes, and red peppers—but no tuna or lettuce. My vinaigrette harkens to more accepted variations; mustard, vinegar, and olive oil make up the primary ingredients. But many would sneer at my roasted potatoes and blanched green beans—never mind my white beans, cucumber, and avocado.
Broken down however, we still have simple ingredients, full of flavor. Simple well-prepared ingredients with the power to excite me just as much as any bowl of artfully crafted ramen, perfectly grilled steak, or slow-simmered pasta Bolognese. I think this is why the salad (any version of it) works so well. At its best it’s a fusion of quality ingredients, dressed simply but flavorfully, that encapsulates the flavors of summer.
Often it’s the simple dishes and recipes that linger in my mind long after the meal is over, the dishes have been cleared, the kitchen put back in order. This is due largely to the quality of ingredients used. Have you ever had a ripe summer tomato? Bursting with flavors of sweet sunlight? What about the taste of a salty brine-infused olive? Kalamata for example—a good quality Kalamata olive awakens the taste buds in a riot of salt and red wine vinegar. A creamy avocado with a splash of lemon is a meal in and of itself. Rich and buttery with the faintest hint of sweetness!? That will never bore me.
My loose interpretation bears all this in mind. It includes fresh baby red and green butter lettuces, ripe cherry tomatoes, crisp Persian cucumber, buttery avocado, creamy white beans, blanched green beans, briny olives, tender roasted baby potatoes, soft boiled eggs (I could write an ode to these, don’t get me started), a sprinkling of capers, and seared salmon finished with garlic and basil. I kept my seasonings fairly simple. My dressing is a blend of good quality olive oil, whole grain mustard, vinegar, a bit of honey and lemon, and tons of fresh basil.
It’s true there is a lot happening with this take on what I’ve learned is a controversial salad. But the flavors are simple, the ingredients fresh, and that is key for eating well. Serve with some chilled white wine and you’re set! Is it too soon to start longing for winter?
Are you a fan of the Niçoise salad? How do you prepare it? Are you a purist or do you play around with tradition? Leave a comment below!
Niçoise Inspired Salad
- 10 oz. baby butter lettuce
- 6 soft-boiled eggs
- 2 cups roasted baby potatoes
- 6 oz. blanched green beans
- 6-8 oz. salmon
- 1 ¼ cups cherry tomatoes
- ½ c. Kalamata olives
- 1 avocado, sliced, + a splash of lemon
- 2-3 Tbsp. capers
- 1 ½ cups sliced Persian cucumber
- 1 cup cannellini beans
- Salt and Pepper
- Olive oil
- Basil mustard vinaigrette, recipe follows
Rinse lettuce well, shake off excess water, and dry on clean kitchen towels.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. One by one, carefully lower eggs in with a slotted spoon. Cook for about 6 ½ to 7 minutes to get that perfect runny yolk (about 6 minutes 30 seconds for the Vital Farms eggs I used). Immediately transfer to an ice bath to stop cooking process. Let cool for about 3-5 minutes before removing the eggshells and halving our quartering. Because cooking time will always vary depending on the size of the egg, I recommend doing a test egg to make sure you don’t under or over cook.
Roast potatoes at 400°F with 2 tsp. olive oil, salt and pepper, for 15-20 minutes, or until tender.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, lightly salt water, and add in green beans. Cook 60-90 seconds, until tender but still crisp, before transferring to an ice bath, then drain and set aside.
Season the salmon fillet with salt and pepper. Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a pan (non-stick preferably) over medium-high heat. Sear salmon for about 3-4 minutes on each side. I like to finish by adding a splash of lemon juice to the pan, along with some fresh crushed garlic, and a pinch of fresh basil.
Basil Mustard Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- ¼ tsp lemon zest
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. + ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup Pinot Grigio white wine vinegar
- 2 tsp. honey
- 1 heaping Tbsp. minced basil
- 1 tsp. no salt seasoning blend, optional (I use Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute)
- 2/3 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the vinaigrette combine all ingredients except for the olive oil in a mixing bowl. Using your stand mixer or handheld mixer, whisk until everything is well combined. While still whisking, slowly drizzle in olive oil to emulsify. Transfer to a mason jar with lid and refrigerate until ready to serve.
To assemble the salad arrange lettuce on a large serving dish, followed by the rest of your ingredients. You can serve this salad mixed, but I prefer to serve it as a composed salad. I also prefer to let people dress their salad to their liking.
I tossed my cherry tomatoes in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.
I sprkinled red pepper flakes on my soft-boiled eggs.
I seasoned the cannellini beans with a pinch of the no-salt seasoning blend.
None of these are necessary steps! But I just went with what sounded good in the moment!