Monday, November 14, 2011
Salade Niçoise is pretty complicated, as far as salads go. I mean, most salads do not involve cooking multiple components in what is ultimately a cold dish, lightly dressed in vineagrette. Not that I'm complaining, because a Niçoise salad is really good, and while it is filling enough to be a meal on its own, it isn't totally gluttonous to the point that it negates all the healthy connotations that go along with eating a salad for dinner. It's got potatoes and hard boiled egg, and some salty anchovies and capers, but all in all it is light and fresh. Laura suggested we make it one day when we had green beans and lettuce and tomato and potato from the food co-op, and it turned out delicious.
If you order salade Nicoise at a restaurant these days, you're just as likely to get beautifully seared tuna steaks, blood red on the inside with a peppery exterior, as you are to the get the traditional version, which, believe it or not, is made with canned tuna. In this age of foodies, we're programed to think that all classic recipes have been adulterated with canned, frozen and processed ingredients, and that nothing good could ever come from such convenient short cuts.
That's not always the case. The original red velvet cake? Food coloring all the way. Trying to get that bright color naturally with beets is a nice thought, but it's actually totally untrue to the original dish. Such is also the case with salade Niçoise, a specialty of the French Riveria, or Côte d'Azur, named after the beautiful seaside city of Nice, where I once spent a lovely two hour train layover: canned tuna, not fresh. Of course, you want to opt for higher quality than your average chicken of the sea supermarket special, but this is a great way to transform a lowly can of tuna into something special
So basically, don't think that you have to go to the fish monger when a pantry staple will suffice. Here's what Laura and I put in our salade Niçoise:
Peeled boiled potatoes.
Blanched green beans.
Because I don't like them, also because I didn't find them at the grocery store (I discovered later they were sneakily hidden with the condiments, olive oils and vinegars instead of with the other canned goods for some strange reason), I left out the eponymous Niçoise olives. I know, I am bad. But it was all on nice food co-op lettuce, with a dijon mustard and thyme vinaigrette. Do you really want me to mess that all up with nasty olives? I didn't think so.
Of course, wikipedia contests nearly all other elements of the recipe we used. Apparently we should have stuck to raw red peppers, shallots and artichoke hearts, and not cooked anything at all? Go figure. In my defense, Julia is on my side. I've read that lady's biography, and if it's French enough for her, it's French enough for me-- woman did her research!