Salade Niçoise // Back from the Dead

Hey Courtney,

Just as everyone thought I had fallen off the face of the planet, here is my response…a whopping month and a half later. I know this is such a canned excuse, but grad school. Okay, enough of that.

So I tried the kale caeser salad. That’s a keeper. I also tried kale chips. Also a keeper. The new lettuce that I have trouble getting through is romaine. Do you de-stem your romaine? I find it a little more palatable when I do, but I guess it depends on the context if you want the crunch or not. I have also found myself with the (good) problem of finding something to do with loads of beet greens. I’m still subscribing to my CSA, and it seems that every week’s box has beets in it. I’ve never been a beet eater mainly because I grew up without eating them, but I think they’re fine roasted. I may be growing sick of them after getting them for so long; however, recently I found out that eating beet greens is a thing so I’ve opted not to throw them out any more. My poor crisper drawer is getting more crammed with each week, but after seeing so many leafy greens I’ve come to one conclusion which may help others in a similar dilemma: any large leafy green can be sautéed with lemon and garlic until tender and it will be great.

The question of why vegetables remain side items is a really good question. Growing up in a southern family seems to bias my perspective on this topic which is why I’ve started edging towards different culinary trends. To be specific, I’ve started reading Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Fruit and Chez Panisse Vegetables in hopes of diversifying my limited repertoire of plant dishes. I had a funny thought the other day about this. Before I bought these books, the two main texts that I had been referencing for some inspiration were Judy Rodger’s Zuni Café and David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. This last one I used mainly because it has great pictures. What’s funny is that Lebovitz was a pastry chef at Chez Panisse while Rodgers managed lunch there. Even more funny is that at Christmas I got The Green’s Cookbook, written by Deborah Madison who (shocker!) is a Chez Panisse alumnus. So all of these cookbooks I have been following have had Chez Panisse, Alice Water’s legendary restaurant, lurking in the background all without me drawing the connection. It’s nice to look back at my seemingly random Amazon purchases and find some continuity to them all. The history of Chez Panisse is really interesting, as it is credited for having brought prominence to the organic food movement amongst other things. And yeah, I realize how I am sounding more and more like a California hippie. But to borrow a phrase from Matthew and Molly on Spilled Milk, if you don’t take a stand for something, you’ll fall for eating “veggies” like deviled eggs or mac and cheese with eggs in it.

I know what you mean about the “just so”. Folks, this is why learning to cook is an enjoyable and essential life skill. That being said, I do miss your dinner parties. This goes without saying, but entertaining is not a trivial task and I think it’s becoming somewhat of a lost art. I’ve been bad about trying to have some here. Us first year math graduate students have potlucks on occasion which are nice but we just simply don’t have a table big enough to fit us all. The devil(ed egg) is in the details and having the right table is a big detail.

As you may know, it was someone’s birthday two weeks ago. Since UCSD’s academic calendar unfortunately places the beginning of finals week on that day, there wasn’t much time for me to do anything extravagant. But as missionaries of eating good food, we both know that you must treat yourself on your birthday. So I splurged and got a tuna steak and made a Nice salad. The first time I had salade niçoise was when my undergraduate advisor had me and a couple of colleagues over to thank us for filming the latter half of his year long multivariable mathematics course and uploading it to YouTube (the curious reader can find the finished product here). It’s safe to say that this is by far my favorite salad. I mean, what can go wrong when you put a heaping seared tuna steak on a dish? Anyways, here’s the recipe that I use. Of course, I never measure anything out so I’m eyeballing it here. Adjust the ingredients to your liking, particularly in the vinaigrette. Some great additions to this salad would be anchovies, hard boiled egg, and some niçoise olives, but I’ve omitted them here for a more crowd-pleasing dish.

Salade Niçoisesalade_nicoise

Ingredients:

Dressing:
1 T Dijon mustard
2 T red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 forkful capers, drained
1 shallot, minced
6 T olive oil

Salad:
2 handfuls of green beans, ends trimmed & cut in half
2 medium potatoes, such as Yukon Gold
1 handful flat parsley (optional)
2 large heirloom tomatoes, or 1 pint of grape heirlooms, sliced in wedges
1 head Boston/Bibb lettuce, or 1/2 head of Romaine, roughly chopped
1 T vegetable oil*
1 tuna steak

*Note: don’t use olive oil or butter. It will burn at high heat, adding an unpleasant flavor to the fish here. I like to use duck fat here, as it adds a wonderful crust to the fish, but it’s not necessary.

Directions:

Bring a pot of water with a pinch of salt to a simmer for the green beans and potatoes. Separately, fill a bowl with ice water. Blanch the green beans until al dente and transfer them to the ice water. In the same pot with the same water, boil the potatoes until easily pierced by a paring knife but maintain their structural integrity. While the potatoes boil, whisk the mustard, capers, vinegar, and shallot in a bowl. Slowly (and I mean slowly!) add the oil to the mixture, constantly whisking. You may gradually increase the pace at which you add the oil, but make sure it stays emulsified. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

When the potatoes are done, immediately drain them and toss them with some of the vinaigrette and parsley if you’re using it (I tend to be fairly liberal with the vinaigrette here…but do so to your own liking). Add salt and pepper if you think it needs it.

To prepare the tuna steak, pat it dry with some paper towels on all sides. Sprinkle a pinch of salt on the top and bottom of the steak. In a small skillet, heat the oil until it just begins to smoke. Place the fish in the skillet and sear until it is golden brown on the bottom. Turn over and repeat for the other side. When both sides are seared, remove the fish from the skillet and onto a plate to rest.

Begin assembling the salad as follows: toss the lettuce with a bit of the vinaigrette and lay over the serving platter. Arrange the beans, tomatoes, and potatoes around the edge of the platter and spoon over some of the vinaigrette over the tomatoes and beans. Slice the tuna into thin strips and lay over the center of the platter. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the tuna and serve immediately.

 

To respond to your closing comments: X-files is my new show, if you can call it that. It is not snowing in San Diego, and as far as I know it never has. I can’t wait to show you around when you come here for your conference! I just hope you have enough free time to see it all.

Best,
Eric

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