I have a few friends who would vehemently disagree with me, but I don't generally consider myself a picky eater. I will try anything once, so I know the foods I don't like have all been tasted by me, most likely more than once, and I just really don't like them. Beets? Hate. Olives? No thank you. Fennel? Why? In the case of raw or undercooked foods, it's usually more of an instinctive rejection I can't get past, as if my body is programmed a certain way and I can't override it. For example, I'll decide to get over it already and take a bite of that dish with the runny egg, or steak tartare or raw fish, and the signals between my brain and my esophagus go as follows (run-on sentences only obviously, as this dialogue happens so rapidly there's no way my neural pathways could be pausing for good grammar):
Brain: Oh look how pretty that looks amazing let me have a bite ooh it tastes good oh this isn't cooked hey look at me being all adventurous I mean I know its not cooked but still pretty and it's yummy right so it's fine look I'm eating it--
Body: ALERT UNCOOKED FOOD ALERT MUST NOT DIGEST WILL NOT ACCEPT MUST NOT ACCEPT--
Brain: No no it's ok its ok see it tastes fine delicious even you can do it you can do it don't worry about it--
Body: UNCOOKED FOOD CANNOT COMPUTE MUST EJECT--
Uh, yeah, so that's when the gagging starts.
The really irritating thing about all of this is that my list of foods I truly dislike isn't even that long! There are maybe five things I really never ever want to eat again, but they just so happen to be extremely popular on menus, especially in the winter months, when a delicious bounty of other root vegetables still somehow takes a backseat to those trendy all-stars, fennel and beets. Loathe and double loathe. As for the rest of the year, it's always a constant battle against the ubiquity of olives, sushi, and raw beef, inevitably served with a raw or poached egg on top. Yum, just what I wanted never.
Salad nicoise is a dish that perfectly encapsulates my conundrum. It's not something that I see very frequently on menus, but if I did, it would be one of those dishes that I reluctantly don't order, because even though it sounds delicious, and even though I could easily skip the olives, most restaurants almost always fancy it up with barely seared (i.e. raw) tuna instead of the canned variety, and hardly anything looks less appetizing to me than those thin steaks with the purple center outlined by a bare millimeter of cooked flesh.
But this version, I tweaked it to suit me. All tuna is fresh out of the can and blessedly cooked, olives have been swapped with capers, and there is not an anchovy in sight. Searching online and perusing my single cookbook on French cuisine* yielded many recipe variations for this salad, with tomatoes, eggs, green beans, and potatoes being the mainstays. So I kept those, and also added red bell peppers, artichoke hearts, and radishes. Also? I cooked it! Every vegetable. The result was a warm, definitely not-composed salad of tuna and vegetables hinting at warmer weather but still appropriate for the last cool days of winter temps. It's an Easter basket of vegetables, a riot of color perfect for a spring table.
*Julia Child also explicitly calls for canned tuna in her Nicoise Salad, so I'm in good company!
Despite my personal feelings, I'm going to encourage you to top this beauty with a poached egg, if that's your thing. I bet it would be amazing. If it's not your thing, well, I topped mine with a crispy fried egg and promptly inhaled it.
Warm Nicoise Salad
For the salad:
1 cup baby potatoes, any variety (yukon gold, fingerling, etc. I used marble potatoes)
2 cups green beans
2 Tbs olive oil
3/4 cup red radishes, sliced into quarters
1 bell pepper, red, yellow or orange, cut into strips
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1-2 cans oil-packed tuna, drained (see note)
2 Tbs capers
For the vinaigrette:
2 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
4 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
- Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients and set aside.
- Parboil your potatoes: bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil, and boil potatoes until you can just pierce the largest ones with a fork. While potatoes are boiling, you can also blanch your green beans in the same pot. Drop the green beans in the water and boil for 1 minute, then remove with tongs and plunge immediately into an ice bath. Submerge the green beans in the ice bath until they are the same temperature as the water.When potatoes are done, drain and let cool, then slice in half.
- Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat, then add bell pepper and radishes and a pinch of salt. Saute for 1-2 minutes until peppers begin to soften, then add potatoes and green beans. Saute until potatoes turn golden, about 3-5 minutes. Add artichoke, tomatoes and tuna to the pan and saute 1-2 minutes more, until everything is warmed through and tomatoes start to release their juice.
- Remove the pan from the heat and toss the vegetables and tuna with the vinaigrette and capers. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.
- To serve, pile salad on a plate and top with a poached or fried egg.
- I used two cans of tuna, which made this salad more of a vegetable-heavy variation on tuna salad. If you want the tuna as more of a background ingredient, use 1 can. Also, I would recommend using tuna packed in oil, but if you don't have that, water-packed tuna is fine. Before adding the tuna to your salad, break it up with a fork with a little olive oil and more mustard, if desired.
- All vegetable amounts are of course variable, and can be swapped in an out as desired.