During my years in France I always thought ordering a salade niçoise in a restaurant was kind of like buying a pig in a poke because I could never be sure what I’d end up finding on my plate. Would it come with artichoke hearts or beans? With or without potatoes? With anchovies or tuna? Or with both?
A salade niçoise is not your average salad. It is the source of a lot of controversy and strong opinions among food lovers. There are ardent defenders of the original recipe who will go to great lengths at attacking anyone trying to innovate. Hélène Darroze was bombarded on Facebook with negative comments back in 2016 when she posted a photo of her version of the salad with green beans and potatoes. Quel scandale! was among the milder comments. A véritable attentat! – one person roared. Well, wouldn’t it be nice if the only attacks in the world today were committed by reputable chefs like Ms Darroze, and that on our taste buds, right?
Traditionalists insist the salad consists of, and only of tomatoes, black niçoise olives, anchovy fillets, artichoke hearts and raw peppers dressed with olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and fines herbes. It should also be served in a wooden bowl rubbed with garlic. The salad – according to the purists – excludes lettuce, tuna, eggs, potatoes, beans or any other cooked vegetables.
The salad originated in the south of France, in sunny Nice – thus the name – and celebrates all the goodness the Mediterranean sunshine provides. It’s fresh, it’s salty and delightfully colorful.
For me, this classic salad is the perfect lunch because it’s rich enough to get me through the afternoon until dinner time without reaching for snacks. That is, if I have it with beans, eggs and potatoes. After having rubbed the serving bowl with garlic, I added crunchy lettuce, cherry tomatoes, anchovy fillets, black olives (unfortunately niçoise isn’t available here), green beans and eggs. Already a sacrilege! But then I also added avocado chunks instead of boiled potatoes because, well, you know, I live in a country with the most amazing avocados and if they kick me out from the club of purists, well, I might as well do what I want. And I can always just go ahead and call my dish a pseudo-niçoise salad!
What you’ll need to serve 2 (served as a main dish not as a side salad):
- 1 small clove of garlic
- A small head of lettuce (I used romaine)
- 2 medium-sized ripe, red tomatoes or 200g of cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters
- 6 anchovy fillets
- 3 free range eggs
- 100g green beans, trimmed
- handful of black olives, pitted
- basil or parsley, cleaned and chopped
- 1 small avocado, diced
For the dressing:
- 1 tbs red wine vinegar
- a good glug of extra virgin olive oil
- Himalaya salt and pepper
- Optional: a very small dab of Dijon mustard
What you’ll need to do:
1. Make your dressing by mixing vinegar and mustard then adding the olive oil. Add salt and pepper and whisk together. Go easy on the salt, the anchovies are already salty.
2. Bring water to boil in a pan. Add the eggs for 5-6 minutes so they’re barely set. Put them under cold running water to stop cooking.
3. Cook the green beans in boiling water for a couple of minutes or use a steam cooker. Drain in sieve.
4. Clean and chop or tear the lettuce to bite size pieces. Wash and quarter tomatoes. Peel and quarter eggs. Rinse anchovy fillets. Pit olives.
5. Cut the garlic clove in half and rub your serving dish thoroughly.
6. Start assembling your salad by laying the salad leaves on the bottom of your dish then arrange the rest of your ingredients (tomatoes, eggs, anchovies, beans, olives) in any way you fancy. Pour the dressing over your salad and decorate with chopped parsley or basil.