Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.Albert EinsteinThis is one of those recipes that you will find yourself making over and over again (and warning, it’s borderline addictive too!). Earlier this summer, it seemed as if I was getting hints from all corners to make this simple Salad Niçoise. From Laura’s drop-dead gorgeous version using French Lentils, to this lovely composition with marinated chickpeas over at Minimalist Baker, it honestly felt as though my best girlfriend (and business partner) and I just kept talking about it, gorgeous pictures and the minutia of creative ingredient details included. Truth be told we talk about food an awful lot, and it was during one of our delicious summer brainstorms that we discussed the fried capers. YES, FRIED CAPERS, maybe one of the tastiest things ever to grace the earth. They are everything here and they really make this salad something else!
My first ever real salad Niçoise experience was in Paris, and funny enough it was my first meal ever in France on my first ever trip to Europe. I was just 30 and recall that I was terrified the French would be très difficult with my food requests. So how pleased I was that I, the forever (pain in the butt) vegetarian, literally sailed through my time there in restaurants – it turns out Parisians quite liked me after all! And at least if they didn’t, they were totally polite about it 😉
Until recently, the only written recipe I could recall seeing back home was this one from my handy-dandy Rebar cookbook, and it is their dressing I’ve used here pretty much to a tee. The concept of this salad being so seemingly simple, the end product relies heavily on the quality and freshness of the produce you use. So head to the farmers market and buy the best – the smallest fingerling potatoes you can find, and the smallest, freshest green beans. Use the Niçoise olives or plain Kalamatas, whatever you can find. Cook the chickpeas from scratch, because cooked this way (if using quality chickpeas) they can be used absolutely plain on this platter and fit right in. And finally, take advantage of the booming tomato season happening now – while they are this good, and this plentiful, and this available. Use roasted peppers or try asparagus instead of or alongside the beans. Just don’t skip the fried crispy Capers, whatever you do 😉
Simply Perfect Salad Nicoise:
.5-1# tender green beans, stemmed
1.5# fingerling potatoes, halved or quartered, size pending
1.5 cups freshly cooked chickpeas
1 pint mixed cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup olives, Niçoise or Kalamata
1 jar Capers, drained (a small 3 oz. jar)
Olive oil or Grapeseed oil for frying Capers
Fresh parsley for garnish
1 shallot, minced fine
1/2 cup good olive oil
juice of 1/2 a fresh lemon
2 tbsp Red or White Wine Vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp natural sweetener
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
Be sure to have the chickpeas cooked in advance for this, as the cooked from scratch will make a huge difference to the end product vs. canned. Start by cooking the potatoes and green beans separately. First, combine the potatoes with enough water to cover and bring to a light boil. Cook for 6-8 minutes until just tender, drain and set aside. Repeat the same process with the green beans, cooking for only 4-5 minutes, until tender but still bright green. Drain and submerge in ice water to cool. Drain and set aside.
While the potatoes and beans cook, prepare the tomatoes, fresh herbs for garnish, and the dressing. Fry the Capers by heating a few tablespoons of cooking oil on high in a frying pan and adding the drained capers (careful they will spatter a little). Cook, stirring for 8-10 minutes until the capers have darkened and shrunk down a little. They will be dry and crispy. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Once all of the ingredients are ready, assemble the vegetables, olives, and chickpeas in groupings on a large platter. Just before serving, scatter the capers over the top and drizzle the dressing as evenly as you can over the composition. Scatter with fresh parsley and season with more black pepper. Serve right away or enjoy throughout the evening. This salad should a good side for 4-6 if eating other foods, or a heartier serving for 2-4 hungry vegetarians. It will keep well in the fridge for a few days, but I doubt it will make it that long! Enjoy!