I have a big problem with salads. Not good salads of course but it just seems that there is a serious amount of bad ones. We rarely give a salad the justice it deserves by taking ingredients, throwing them together, and expecting them to work as if by some degree of magic the flavours and textures of the individual components will change when bundled together. A good salad on the other hand can be a thing of beauty; a cornucopia of textures, techniques, flavours, and can of course be a healthy addition to our diet. Therefore the problem that I have with salads is the lack of effort we often give them. Give each component time, a little effort, and you can see your boring, lackluster salad elevated to new heights, heights that can happily be enjoyed for a substantial healthy lunch or indeed a light dinner. Season your tomatoes with a sprinkling of salt 10 minutes before assembling and see their flavour come to life. Roast some shallots instead of adding raw onion to include a different flavour and texture compound. Add white beans, such as cannelloni, to boost the protein content and add texture. All of these simple ideas can enhance the dish from mediocrity to sublime. A general tip if making a salad for lunch and/or making it ahead of time is to keep any ingredients separate from salad leaves. The moisture in tomatoes, cucumber etc. only ensures soggy, unappetising leaves if added anything more than a couple of minutes before serving. So pack them separately, bring all ingredients together, add your dressing, stir to mix, and enjoy.
We may seem beyond the longer, sun-kissed evenings that evoke memories of al fresco dining but a good salad like this can still be enjoyed now and certainly for as a lunch option. There are a few essential elements to a classic Niçoise that will hopefully help you in putting together a winning dish.
As always my mantra holds true and the quality of the final dish is the sum of the ingredients that go into it. Therefore you’ll have better results if you use good quality tuna here. I’m not one to jump all over an ingredient straight away but I think that Shines Tuna, while not cheap, is an excellent quality product, using a sustainable fish. Check it out for and judge for yourself.
If you want eggs that have a slightly runny centre as I have there are two ways to achieve this. If you have eggs at room temperature, put the eggs into a saucepan and top with just boiled water. Place on a high heat and boil for 6 minutes. Strain immediately and place straight into a large bowl of cold water and ice to stop the cooking process. If your eggs are coming from the fridge, place them into a saucepan, fill with cold water about an inch above the eggs and bring to the boil. When boiling remove from the heat, place the lid on the saucepan and leave to sit for 7-8 minutes. Strain immediately and place into an ice bath to cool. Once cool, to peel the eggs, bash the rounder end of the egg onto your countertop and carefully peel the shell from the egg. Place the eggs into the fridge until ready to serve.
The Fine Green Beans
To cook, rinse under a tap to clean and place into a medium saucepan. Top with boiling water, place on a high heat and cook for 4 minutes. Strain and immediately put the cooked green beans into an ice bath. This process can be done hours in advance and stored in the fridge.
For the best results use a firm, waxy, baby potato here. Boil for 12-15 minutes depending on the size, drain, and let cool. Once cool, quarter the potatoes into large chunks. A further, though an optional technique, is to heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over a high heat and sauté the potatoes until browned on all sides.