A month or two ago, when it was still warm enough to want a salad for dinner, I made one of my favourite salad meals – salad Nicoise. It was appropriate in light of the fact that we were soon going to be heading for Nice and the south of France where this dish originates, and also because we were planning our trip to Munich where I had one of the best salads Nicoise I have ever had.
“A la Nicoise” is a French phrase meaning “in the style of Nice”, in other words foods prepared in the style of that area’s cuisine. As one would imagine, the area’s cuisine relies heavily on ingredients that are readily available locally, and in the case of Nice these include tomatoes, black olives, garlic and anchovies. Both hot and cold dishes can be described as Nicoise if they contain these ingredients. So it is fairly logical then that these ingredients feature prominently in a salad Nicoise, but as with many traditional dishes, some controversy surrounds the proper ingredients for an “authentic” version of the dish. Most versions today add tuna, green beans and hard boiled egg slices/quarters as pretty much standard and surely nobody could have a problem with this. I would have more of a problem if, say, the anchovies and olives were left out as then the dish starts to lose some of its defining elements. But I also believe in some culinary license and if you want to add stuff to the basic recipe and it tastes good, why not??
The best salad Nicoise I ever tasted was in Munich in 2003. Unlike this year, the weather in 2003 was incredibly hot. We had spent the morning walking around in the sunny Englischer Garten and ended up hot, bothered and tired by lunchtime. I knew we were heading for the beer tents later and all I wanted was some quiet time to collect myself before that, so when we found the Hofer der Stadwirtrestaurant in Burgstrasse, I was thrilled. The restaurant has the loveliest inner courtyard, all shady and cool on a summer’s day, with a little tinkling fountain in the middle and flowers everywhere – the perfect place to revive one’s spirits! I felt the need for something light and reasonably healthy (to counteract the drinking that was about to take place!) and so I ordered their salad Nicoise – what a great choice!! An ENORMOUS bowl full of crisp lettuce, good tuna, plump olives, delicious anchovies, tender green beans and sweet tomatoes. Oh, and a good chunk of baguette to mop up the vinaigrette dressing. It was the perfect dish at the perfect time – I remember that lunch as being one of the most relaxing meals out that we have enjoyed in a long time and every time I have salad Nicoise, I remember that happy day.
In the summer I often throw together some variation of this salad. I tend to play a bit fast and loose with the ingredients, but I always have olives, anchovies and tuna in mine. I usually needed to bulk up the salad a little and make it more filling (Nick is a growing lad and needs his calories!!), so I add some boiled and halved new potatoes, and in a pinch I have been known to substitute broccoli florets for the green beans. Ideally, the ingredients look something like this:
Lettuce, new potatoes (boiled and halved), 1 tin of tuna chunks, olives, anchovies, halved cherry tomatoes, green beans (chopped and blanched) and onion rings all tossed in a large bowl together with a wholegrain mustard vinaigrette, with maybe some crusty bread for mopping up. Quick, easy and delicious – and a perfect way to bring back happy memories for me!
(Fyi, the night I took the picture I didn’t have any tomatoes in the fridge, hence the distinct lack of red in the salad! And the item sharing its plate is a slice of honeydew melon wrapped in Parma ham.)