A salade niçoise is a type of salade composée, that is, a salad that contains many ingredients other than just lettuce. A good salade niçoise makes a fine supper that is pleasing to prepare and eat on a hot summer evening.

The basics of a classic salad niçoise are those ingredients typical of the cuisine of the French Riviera city of Nice - ingredients which yield dishes à la niçoise. Typically, these are tomatoes, anchovies, and small piquant black olives often called niçoise olives, along with fresh seasonal ingredients; for this version, use green beans (ideally thin and tender haricots verts), potatoes, tuna, onion, and hard-boiled eggs. This salad is traditionally layered in a bowl, but I find it looks particuarly impressive if it is artfully arranged on a platter on a bed of lettuce. Another innovation for this version is tossing the ingredients separately with a fresh herbaceous vinaigrette, rather than drizzling dressing over the top.

The recipe may look a bit daunting, but it's not that bad. It does takes organization to get everything prepared, but if you follow my instructions, you'll end up with a gorgeous yet substantial salad and a very impressed dinner companion.

What you'll need to make a salad niçoise for two

For the vinaigrette

For the salad

  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 small new red potatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 head Boston lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 small can tuna packed in olive oil, drained - give the oil to your cat and s/he will love you forever; or substitute a piece of fresh tuna, grilled, for an even more luxurious treat
  • 2 small ripe tomatoes, cut into eight wedges each
  • 1 very small red onion, sliced very thin
  • 12 green beans, cut in half crosswise if long
  • 12 niçoise olives or other briny small black olives - but not canned olives, those are nasty
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 1 tblsp / 15 ml capers, rinsed

What to do

Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Place the eggs in a small saucepan, completely cover with cold water, and bring to the boil. As soon as it boils, remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand 10 minutes. Then remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and place in a medium bowl filled cold water and ice and let sit for 5 minutes. Remove the eggs - keep the ice water - peel, and cut into quarters lengthwise.

While the eggs are cooking, place the potatoes in cold water with a little salt and bring to boil. Cook until tender, about 5 to 10 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, toss the lettuce with 2 tblsp / 30 ml vinaigrette, so it's well coated. Arrange the lettuce on two dinner plates.

Put the drained tuna in the now-empty bowl where the lettuce just was and toss with 1/4 cup / 60 ml vinaigrette; mound half the tuna in the centre of each plate lettuce. (If using fresh tuna, grill it rare, cool slightly, slice thinly, toss with vinaigrette, and fan out in the centre of the lettuce.)

Put the tomatoes and red onion in the again-empty bowl and toss with 1 tblsp / 15 ml vinaigrette, then arrange artfully in a mound on one side of the lettuce on each plate.

Remove the now-cooked potatoes with a slotted spoon - poke them with a small knife first to make sure they are soft in the centres - to a medium bowl (do not discard the saucepan of boiling water), and let sit 1 minute, then toss with 2 tblsp / 30 ml vinaigrette. Arrange the potatoes in a separate artful mound on the plates.

Return the water to the boil and add the green beans; cook until tender, bright green, and crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to ice water, let sit for 1 minutes, then dry well. Put in the empty bowl that the tuna and all that other stuff was tossed in, add 1 tblsp / 15 ml vinaigrette, and then arrange artfully on the plates. You're almost done now.

Arrange the eggs artfully on the plates and dizzle with the remaining vinaigrette. Sprinkle the olives and capers about, place the anchovies in a cross on top of the tuna, wipe your brow, pour a glass of vinho verde, and dig in.

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