- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

A conversation with a friend about the different interpretations of salad nicoise made us realize that there may be as many versions of this internationally known French favorite as there are cooks.

Nicoise is a phrase used to describe dishes served in and near the city of Nice, in the south of France.

We agreed that our favorite version is made with imported canned Mediterranean tuna packed in olive oil, ripe red tomato wedges, anchovy fillets and freshly cooked new potatoes and green beans tossed with a mustard vinaigrette. All of this is arranged gracefully on salad greens and garnished with a few salty black olives.

We also agreed that we object to modern versions of the classic that are made with fresh tuna. While fresh tuna might make a good salad, it’s not a salad nicoise. We also strongly agreed that canned tuna in vegetable oil or water is to be avoided, at least for this particular salad.

Salad nicoise requires the richness of dark tuna packed in olive oil to balance the acid of the tomatoes and the saltiness of the black olives and anchovies.

Some cooks add strips of roasted red or yellow bell peppers, marinated artichoke hearts and chopped fresh basil, tarragon or rosemary to the salad as well.

To serve the salad, I prefer the dramatic presentation of a large platter lined with curly leaf lettuce. The lettuce is topped with tomato and hard-cooked egg wedges, cubed new potatoes and green beans.

Anchovy fillets and black olives are added as garnish, and the tuna is mounded into the center of the platter.

My friend likes to toss together all the ingredients except the tuna.

The salad is then spooned onto serving plates, with a spoonful of tuna mounded onto the center of each plate. We also talked about a version in which the ingredients are layered in a straight-sided glass bowl and then tossed with a tangy lemon dressing just before serving.

Whatever way it is served, salad nicoise makes a delicious light supper or lunch. Serve it with slices of French bread.

For dessert, offer a platter of fresh melon sprinkled with lime juice and fresh mint syrup.

Salad nicoise

The preparation time is 30 minutes, and the cooking time is about 25 minutes

2 large eggs

4 to 8 small new potatoes

6 ounces slender green beans, stem ends trimmed

2 6-ounce cans tuna in olive oil, preferably imported

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, minced

teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

One small head curly leaf lettuce, trimmed, rinsed, leaves patted dry and torn into large pieces

1 large ripe tomato, trimmed, cut into 8 wedges

4 anchovy fillets, drained and patted dry

cup brine-cured black olives, preferably nicoise

Place eggs in a small saucepan and cover with water. Heat water to a gentle boil. Remove saucepan from heat and let stand, covered, 15 minutes.

Drain eggs and rinse with cold water. Gently crack shells against the side of the pan and let cool in cold water. Remove shells and carefully divide each egg into 4 wedges.

Place whole new potatoes in a medium saucepan and add water to cover. Cook, covered, over medium-high heat until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Lift potatoes from boiling water and set aside to cool.

Add green beans to the water and boil, uncovered, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes, depending on size. Drain. Cut potatoes into cubes.

Drain tuna in a strainer and discard the oil. Flake tuna with a fork. Set aside.

To make the dressing, whisk olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl until blended. Add cooked potatoes and green beans and gently toss to coat.

Arrange a layer of lettuce leaves on a large platter. Arrange potatoes and green beans at either end of the platter. Reserve dressing remaining in bowl.

Arrange tomato and hard-cooked egg wedges around the edges of the platter. Mound tuna in the center.

Drizzle tuna with dressing remaining in the bowl. Lay anchovies on top of the salad. Garnish salad with olives. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

Melon with fresh lime and mint syrup

The preparation time is 15 minutes.

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons sugar

tablespoon minced fresh mint

4 cups (-inch) cubed honeydew or cantaloupe (about one half a large honeydew or 1 medium cantaloupe, rind removed and seeds discarded)

Combine lime juice and sugar in a large bowl and stir to dissolve sugar. Add the mint. Add the melon cubes and stir gently to coat. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES INTERNATIONAL

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