Salade niçoise is a dish so evocative that you can probably remember where you were when you first tasted one. In my case, it was in … Nice, where I spent three weeks digging for pre-Neanderthal man as a student in the summer of 1969. We would wander into town along the Mediterranean, find a little café, order wine and something to eat. Once I ordered a salade niçoise — and was in heaven. But what, exactly, is salade niçoise?
Salade niçoise / Salade niçoise
These days in France a salade niçoise usually comes with tuna on top, but that was not part of the original recipe. Nor were other ingredients that are often seen today, like green beans, potatoes, rice or — say it ain’t so — sweet corn. No, mes amis, in the beginning a salade niçoise contained only local ingredients: tomatoes, small white onions, anchovies, perhaps some mesclun (mixed tender leaves) or basil and, of course, olive oil.
Over time, other ingredients were added — hard-boiled eggs, still warm; little black olives from the Nice region; green peppers, cucumbers, radishes, celery hearts or raw artichoke hearts, all thinly sliced; or fresh broad beans. Tuna, which was not widely fished a couple hundred years ago, was included only on feast days. And the salad was specific to Nice and its immediate region. Even today, my favorite Provençal cookbook, Andrée Maureau’s Recettes en Provence, contains no mention of salade niçoise. That’s how local it is.
Today’s recipe sticks close to the original. It’s a tangy, flavor-packed salad, perfect for warm summer days. It makes a fine starter or main course, accompanied by crusty bread and a bottle of chilled dry rosé. You can also serve it tucked inside a crusty roll drizzled with olive oil, as they do in Nice, where the sandwich is called pan bagnat. This being a creative cooking site, you may of course improvise by adding whatever other ingredients appeal. There are no rules here. Except for one: no sweet corn, please!