recipe

balsamic-soy salade niçoise

We’re in the process of moving (our new place is in Capitol Hill, within walking distance of Safeway, Trader Joes, Smith, and Victrola!). And if there’s one thing that I do not feel like doing after a day of packing, cleaning, and taking things to Goodwill, it’s cooking. Actually, that’s not really true — puttering in the kitchen is one of my favorite ways to unwind. However, sometimes I don’t have the time or energy.

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Making a “meal salad” is a great way to get dinner on the table quickly. We have a few variations on the theme, but one of the classier versions is Salade Niçoise, which features tuna, hard boiled eggs, green beans, tomatoes, capers, and of course Niçoise olives. It’s the kind of thing that I imagine Lucille Bluth eating at the country club (that is, before they got downgraded to a pool-only membership). My version is pretty close to the original, but I leave out the capers, tomatoes, and olives (too briny, inconsistent, and expensive, respectively) and almost always use high-quality canned tuna instead of a piece of fish.

Total cost: about $12, including the bread. Plus, there’s 8 eggs leftover. That’s like $3 per serving PLUS 8 free eggs!
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When I made this last night, I took some more short cuts and bought a bag of pre-trimmed green beans and pre-chopped salad greens. I can’t endorse this wholeheartedly – the beans had a few brown spots and the greens were overpriced – but if you’re trying to save some time, this isn’t a bad way to do it.

A word on tuna: you can use whatever kind you like. But I’ve found that if you go for the fancier stuff (solid white, either in water or olive oil), you will have a better tuna eating experience. The $.50/can stuff is great for tuna sandwiches and feeding to the cat, but if you’re going to feature it in a salad you might want something more substantial and with a little more flavor. The choice is yours. You can also, of course, leave the tuna out. Sometimes I substitute a can of rinsed chickpeas, which is really nice.

You’ll have to hard boil some eggs to make this salad. Here’s my foolproof method: put your eggs in a saucepan, fill with cold water to cover, and put the lid on. Turn the heat to high and bring the water to a boil. Then leave the lid on, remove from the heat, and set a time for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, drain the eggs and rinse in cold water for a minute or two to stop the cooking. You’ll be left with a perfectly-cooked egg with a really creamy yolk:

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For the dressing, you can use whatever you’d like. A traditional Niçoise salad would have a lemony, mustardy vinaigrette, maybe with some chopped anchovies. I used some homemade balsamic-soy vinaigrette that I keep in a bottle in the fridge (protip: keeping excellent pre-made dressing in the house is a great way to eat more salad). I really like the soy/balsamic combination — it is very versatile, and goes with Asian and Western food. The soy gives a hint of umami flavor that complements the sweeteness of the balsamic perfectly. The trick is to dress each component of the salad individually, to ensure proper coverage.

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Salade Niçoise

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4-6 large eggs
  • 12-16 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 3″ pieces
  • 1 pound small Yukon Gold or red potatoes (about 10), halved or quartered so they’re all the same size
  • 1 5-ounce can high quality canned tuna, drained (optional)
  • 1 14-ounce can chickpeas, drained (optional)
  • salt
  • about 1 cup any salad dressing (recipe for balsamic-soy vinagrette below)
  • about 8-10 cups loosely packed salad greens (my favorite is Boston or Bibb lettuce, but it can be expensive. You can also use a mix of iceberg and romaine. Don’t use mesclun or a more delicate lettuce, as it won’t stand up to the fixins)

Directions

Hard boil the eggs. Place the eggs in a medium saucepan with cold water to cover. Put a lid on the pan and place over high heat. Once water is boiling, remove pan from the heat and let sit 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Peel eggs and set them aside.

Cook the potatoes. Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan with cold water to cover. Add 1 heaping teaspoon of salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Cook until barely tender when poked with a sharp knife, about 6-7 minutes total. Watch them carefully, because no one likes falling-apart potatoes in their salad. Remove with a slotted spoon (do not drain the pan) and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well and set aside.

In the same pan you used for the potatoes, bring the water back to a boil and drop in the green beans. Cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, run under cold water to stop the cooking, and set aside. Drain the potatoes and green beans very well.

In small bowls, toss the tuna and/or chickpeas, potatoes, and green beans with about 1-2 tablespoons dressing each. Cut the eggs into halves or quarters. Toss the greens with about 1/3 cup dressing (you may want to use more or less). To serve, place a mound of greens in a bowl and arrange the tuna, eggs, green beans, and potatoes on top. Serve immediately.

Balsamic-Soy Vinaigrette

adapted from Serious Eats. Makes about 2 cups (easily doubled/tripled/halved).

Ingredients

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 small shallot, peeled
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgn olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (or more, if you like)

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and whizz until combined. If you don’t have a blender or food processor, use an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, finely chop or grate the garlic and shallot, then whisk everything together. Store in a jar or bottle in the refrigerator. Lasts indefinitely.

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