There’s an important scene in Food Whore where Tia is feeling lost. Her personal life and secret life with Michael Saltz are starting to clash and she’s not sure how she'll sort it out.
Her friend asks her to grab a bite and they go to a nice-ish deli near Washington Square Park. You know, one of the ones with a decent salad bar. As she’s thinking, she absent-mindedly adds items to her container: arugula, tuna, mustard, olives… until she makes an accidental Salade Niçoise.
“I mixed and tasted and went back for other ingredients until the tuna salad was near perfect. It was filling and bracing and pickled. It didn’t taste like bodega food at all. The simple act of cooking and tasting calmed me like nothing else.”
Surprise, surprise, I also love Salade Niçoise. The appeal is its remarkable harmony. Every player is assertive: fragrant tuna, briny olives, meaty haricot verts, plush hard-boiled eggs, spicy arugula. And yet together, they harmonize. The salad surely doesn’t need cheese or bacon, both auto-tune for salad, ways to increase tastiness by masking the ingredients. This is hearty and flavorful, with each component keeping its integrity.
In my mind, the defining characteristics of a Salade Niçoise are: boiled potatoes, blanched haricot verts, Niçoise olives, hard-boiled eggs, and high-quality tuna. Other people may want to put anchovy in there, but to me, olives and tuna add enough saltiness. Once you have those ingredients, you can really play around with the rest. The recipe below doesn’t have precise proportions -- just mix and match, salad-bar-bodega style.
Dressing: Using a mortar and pestle, grind three cloves of garlic with one tablespoon of salt until pasty. Add to a bowl along with ⅓ cup of olive oil, 1 minced shallot, the juice of 2 lemons, 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, and black pepper to taste. Whisk and set aside.
Boiled Components: If you have the time, you might as well cook everything in the same pot of boiling water (as opposed to having three pots at once, which is somewhat wasteful and adds a lot of unnecessary heat to your kitchen -- critical if you’re making this in the summer).
Add water to a large saucepan and heavily salt. Bring to a boil. Add purple potatoes and four eggs. After 7-10 minutes (depending on how you like your eggs), remove the eggs and cool them off in a bowl of ice water. Add trimmed haricot verts and cook for 2 minutes. Remove and add to another bowl of ice water. Check potatoes with a fork -- the cooking time depends on the size. Remove when a fork easily slips in, with no “crunch” sound.
Before you assemble, cut the eggs in halves or quarters. Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces.
Tomatoes - I like Kumato because they’re sweet and not too tart. But any tomato will do. Cut into wedges.
Cucumber - English or mini. You want a compact cucumber that isn’t too watery.
Olives - I used oil-cured black olives because they are one of my favs. But Niçoise olives are the classic.
Herbs - scallions, basil, chervil
Microgreens - here, I used mustard micro greens
Pickled Cipollini Onions
On a large plate, arrange a bed of arugula. Add your other ingredients. Top with high-quality olive oil-packed tuna. My favorite is this yellowfin tuna from Ortiz. You can buy it at Whole Foods or Zingermans. (True, you can’t find imported Spanish tuna at a bodega salad bar. But just go with it.)
Drizzle with dressing and serve.