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Salade Nicoise

A Salade Nicoise is a classic French salad named after its birth city of Nice (pronounced neese). I have always loved it for sentimental reasons, but it’s perfect hot-weather fare because every ingredient can be prepared in advance and kept cool, and then you simply assemble the plate. It’s crunchy and salty and zippy, and when you add a pinch of nostalgia, I could make a case that it’s the greatest salad of all time.

In typical French fashion, there is often great debate about what is traditional and what is not in certain classic dishes (in this case, raw or blanched green beans, tuna or anchovies), but I will simply represent the first one I had over twenty years ago, as a college student in Grenoble at an outdoor cafe table, as it remains the one I still make today. There are easy alterations but this is my standard.

The salad is quite simple, it’s roughly six or seven ingredients and a dressing, but it’s about each ingredients’ quality and preparation that makes it a classic.

Dressing:
3T Good olive oil
1T good white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
1T good Dijon mustard
good salt, preferably fleur de sel
freshly cracked peppercorns
Whisk & taste – This is the magic.

Ingredients, for one salad:
Several leaves of lettuce – dark romaine or soft boston lettuce
Ripe tomato, one small or several cherry tomatoes
3-5 Nicoise olives (small, jet-black cured olives, may also be Moroccan olives, never pitted)
One organic hard boiled egg (instruction below)
Several blanched green beans (instruction below)
1-2 anchovy fillets, room temperature (buy jarred if you can find them and don’t be afraid!)
One or two fingerling or small potatoes, boiled – Optional, but since I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like, I add them; also, you can boil the potatoes and add the green beans for the last minute to save time.

When you are ready to plate, tear the lettuce into bite size pieces and top with peeled, sliced egg, sliced potato, sliced tomato, anchovy fillets, green beans, Nicoise olives at the center. Add one or two tablespoons of dressing (always start with less). Et voila! The best extra ingredient, if you’ve got it, is warm alfresco weather to sit and enjoy it outside.

Perfect Hard Boiled Egg:
Place 1-2 eggs in water in pot, bring to full boil, put the lid on, turn the heat off, remove pot from burner and allow to steep for ten minutes. Drain eggs and run under cold water.

Boil potatoes & green beans: Add two or three potatoes to pot with pinch of salt and bring to boil, allow to boil steadily but not furiously for roughly 20min, checking after 15min (especially if potatoes are small) with a fork for tenderness; add green beans for last minute and drain.

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Fresh Lima Beans

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Looks can be deceiving: this is the Lima Bean story. If you see them in the market or store, they are completely unassuming:

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But what sneakily hides inside these flat pods is a treasure. They are one of the legumes that requires shelling, like soy beans (edamame) or fava beans, which is another way of their trickery (aah, another deterrent). But shelling takes very little time so don’t despair.

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Once shelled, they still have a quiet presence: smooth and pale green staring back at you.

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After several therapeutic minutes of shelling (even little hands like to help with this part), you will have scores staring back at you.

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Let me tell you: it is all worth the wait. Freshly cooked lima beans, tossed in just a little bit of salty butter, are SUBLIME. They have a smooth bite, a nutty flavor, almost like pecans, but have their own earthiness, and they are an absolute treat. Don’t pass them by!

Local Fresh Lima Beans
1 1/2lbs beans in pod will yield roughly 2cups shelled beans
Shell by gently twisting pod, enough to open and remove beans, discard pod
Set large pot of water on stove to boil
Once boiling, add generous pinch of salt
Boil lima beans for 8-10minutes
Check often after 6-7min with a larger sized bean, texture should be smooth
Do not overcook, look for bright green color
Drain and run cool water to stop cooking
Toss with butter and salt to taste.