Yesterday my son asked me what my favorite foods were when I was a kid and I quickly responded, “Salad! I remembered telling someone when I was in the second grade that I wouldn’t mind drinking a bottle of olive oil and vinegar.” To which my son scoffed, “That’s impossible. What 7-year-old likes salad that much?” Honestly, I did. I loved salad then and I love salad now. I was always in charge of dressing the salad when I was young. But we didn’t make anything fancy. I just drizzled good olive oil and vinegar with some salt on our greens and that was that.
I just arrived in New York for my annual summer vacay with my parents, my sisters and their families. We’ve descended upon my parents’ house in Long Island for a week of old fashioned backyard fun with a few trips to the beach and the ice cream parlor. It also involves some serious menu planning for 12-16 people at any given meal. If such persons were all adults, this task would be less challenging than if half of them were children ages 1-19. But I love a challenge!
Sometimes for lunch we’ll make a giant composed salad where each component has its own space and I serve the dressing in a small pitcher on the side. I notice the kids (and picky adults, in general) eat much more of a composed salad than a tossed one. My son, Mr. Picky, can always find something to choose from a composed salad versus one that is tossed, especially if there’s one ingredient that’s offensive and touching everything else. Touching ingredients is a deal breaker!! This version of a classic Nicoise salad is always a winner, plus it’s one of my favorite salads of all time.
The classic typically contains oil-packed tuna, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, green beans (usually the small haricot verts), Nicoise olives, and boiled potatoes. It’s a perfect salad for summer because it can all be prepped ahead and served cold or at room temp. And it’s a meal unto itself.
But I have made so many versions of this salad subbing chicken or slow-roasted salmon for the tuna or even white beans for the tuna for a vegetarian version. Regular string beans for the haricot verts. Even cucumbers have worked nicely. But in this version, which I call a “California Nicoise,” I sub in the very Cali avocado for the potato, because everyone seems to be watching his or her carbs lately! Because of the versatility of this salad, it was a hugely popular in my classes last summer with everyone — Paleo-types, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free peeps and so on.
Visually, I think this salad is so beautiful and quite healthful, too. It is well balanced with high quality protein, fat and lots of veggies. I love using the very best tuna for this salad. I featured this Tonnino oil packed wild tuna in a recent Five Friday Favorites and it is perfect here. If you want to use standard canned tuna, just drizzle a little olive oil on top for added flavor.
Green beans can be blanched, radishes sliced and eggs boiled the day before and refrigerated. But again, feel free to sub other ingredients if that would make you happy. And if you notice more takers than usual for this salad, perhaps employ the composed method for other salads too!
⅓ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces haricot verts (thin French green beans) or string beans, trimmed
2 Tablespoons kosher salt
4-6 hard-boiled large eggs,**peeled and halved lengthwise
1-2 cans high-quality tuna, preferably packed in olive oil, drained and broken into pieces
1 large avocado, cubed***
½ cup olives, preferably Niçoise
¾ pound cherry tomatoes, halved
4 radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
Bibb lettuce leaves to line platter, if desired, or shredded as a bed for the lettuce
Whisk all the dressing ingredients together in a medium bowl or shake in a screw-top jar.
Prepare a bowl of ice water for the green beans. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add kosher salt. Add the beans and set a timer for 3 minutes. After beans have cooked for 3 minutes, test for tenderness. They should be crisp-tender, but not taste raw. Drain and immediately submerge in the ice water bath. Drain after 5 minutes or so and pat dry. Can be done the day before and refrigerated.
Assemble the salad by arranging ingredients in separate groups. I like to line the platter with lettuce either just under the tuna or the entire platter. Drizzle everything with dressing or leave on the side for each person to dress his/her own salad.
*Ingredient amounts can vary based on preferences. **Place uncooked eggs in a saucepan and cover with water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off heat and time for 10 minutes. Rinse with cold water or transfer to a bowl of cold water. Can be done a day ahead and peeled before serving. ***the avocado is in place of the traditional boiled, small new potatoes. But use 1 pound of potatoes if you prefer.
I just had to squeeze in this last recipe before Easter (and Passover) in the hopes that some of you are still looking for inspiration! I taught this salad all last month in my classes and it was THE salad I seemed to make all the time last year when I had people over for dinner in the spring. Spring is the operative word here since there is no mistaking in what season this salad lives. I mean just look at it! It is everything spring should be — bursting with lightness, color and a breath of fresh air! And full of veggies that come into being in the spring. Plus it’s beautiful and it will go perfectly with whatever you’re making. Leg of lamb, perfect. Baked ham? Perfect. Roast chicken or fish. Perfect.
The key with this salad is the balance of textures and colors. You want to keep everything somewhat delicate which is why I love Bibb or Butter lettuces. I found this beautiful red-leaf butter lettuce at my farmers market and used it for every class. But then you need to do your best to slice all the hard and crunchy stuff as thinly as you can, again to keep things light. I used my food processor to thinly slice the cabbage, carrots and radishes. If you have a 2mm or 1 mm slicing disc for your Cuisinart, I would use that. My new Breville has an adjustable slicing disc, so I turned it to just under 1 mm. I especially like bitter vegetables like radishes to be on the thin side. If you don’t have a food processor and your mandolin scares you (I don’t blame you), then just get out your sharpest knife and do your best. You can even do matchsticks for the radishes and grated carrots.
See if you can find beautiful heirloom carrots in purple or yellow and watermelon radishes like the ones here which are so dramatic! I was able to find such carrots at my farmers market as well as Trader Joe’s. My Whole Foods has had these radishes for the last three weeks. Stunning! They will make you look so good. Your family and friends will be so impressed with whatever dish is graced with sliced watermelon radishes! Truth be told however, my favorite component of this salad is the fresh chives. Light, grassy with a very mild onion flavor, chives are like the most delicate green onions. I just love them in this salad and others, too. You know how much I enjoy shallots in my salad dressings, but I don’t add them here because the shallots offer enough of that flavor. Even if you don’t make this recipe, consider adding chopped fresh chives to your next salad. I know you won’t be disappointed!
You can do so much with this salad including adding feta, mint leaves, walnuts, avocado, oranges or kumquats. There’s plenty of dressing for you to add in any of these. Speaking of dressing, since there’s nothing in this one that can spoil, feel free to make this well in advance. I’m sure it would do just fine in the fridge for 2 weeks. It will firm up though because of the olive oil, so remember to pull it out of the fridge at least 20 minutes before you wish to serve it.
I hope you have a beautiful holiday, shared with the ones you love! xoxo
In a perfect world we would all be eating mostly whole foods, that is foods that came into this world a certain way and stayed that way. Whole, unprocessed, unrefined foods are more recognizable by our bodies and better for our health. Period. I also talk a lot about limiting gluten, that pesky inflammatory protein found in wheat and to a lesser extent spelt, barley, rye and farro. One of the problems with our overconsumption of wheat is that 99.9% of the time (I made up that statistic), it is in a processed form such as bread, pasta, baked goods, flour tortillas, pizza, etc. And in the US, much of the processed wheat is refined too, which means anything good that was in there has been taken out. Ugh. I know all those foods are delicious and I am not telling you to never eat them again (although you would be better off), but it’s important to at least acknowledge how much processed wheat you’re eating and try a limit these foods to every once in a while.
So if you buy bread or pasta labeled “whole wheat,” they are technically madefrom whole wheat and not actually whole wheat. If you wanted to actually eat whole wheat, you would eat these little babies right here. They are called wheat berries which is where wheat flour comes from. They are a true whole grain because they’re still intact, as are their B vitamins, fiber, protein, even calcium. Wheat berries remind me a lot of spelt, farro and even short-grain brown rice, but more chewy which makes them perfect in a salad. My kids love them! Truthfully you can use wheat berries in any recipe calling for spelt or farro, none of which, however is gluten free. GF folks can sub brown rice or quinoa very successfully in this recipe.
In as much as I love wheat berries, though, this salad wouldn’t be as delicious without the creamy lemon-tahini dressing which I have been putting on everything lately. If you have a jar a tahini in the fridge, it is likely because you used it to make hummus, the delicious and popular Middle Eastern chickpea dip. Tahini is just ground up sesame seeds, plain and simple with lots of good fats, protein and calcium. If you like hummus, you’ll love this dressing since it contains almost all the same ingredients. It’s zingy, creamy and a little different from your standard vinaigrette. I tend to make it a tad on the spicy side, because I love a little kick, but definitely feel free to leave it out if your family prefers things mild. I took these photos after my class yesterday, when I made the recipe with some thinly sliced radishes, green onions and torn red leaf lettuce, but really the sky’s the limit here. I have made this salad with blanched asparagus, radishes and spinach — delish! I have also used cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, feta and parsley. There’s a picture at the bottom of the post of one version I did with roasted eggplant, red peppers, red onion and parsley, although it vaguely reminded me of that fabulous Ina Garten roasted vegetable orzo dish that I made waaaaay too many times about 10 years ago. Still great, but in my opinion the richness of the dressing works best with light, fresh vegetables and greens.
If I didn’t just make this salad A LOT this month, I would definitely be including it in the summer entertaining menu rotation. For you organized, plan-ahead cooks, the day before or morning of I would cook the wheat berries and allow them to cool, prep the vegetables and make the dressing. I would not, however, dress the salad until the day of otherwise the wheat berries will just soak up all the dressing. I used wheat berries from Bob’s Red Mill, but I have also seen them in the bulk section of some natural food markets. Whatever you make this weekend, have fun and keep it real!
dash or two of cayenne pepper ( I use ¼ teaspoon to make it a little spicy)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salad: (these are suggestions ~ you can also go with cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, chickpeas, asparagus, peas)
2-3 green onions, thinly sliced
2-3 radishes, sliced thinly or julienned
2 big handfuls of tender greens (such as spinach, watercress, argula, or red leaf lettuce)
Put the wheat berries in a medium saucepan and fill the pan with cold water (as if you were making pasta.) Add a big pinch of salt (kosher is fine.) Bring the water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook wheat berries until they are tender, about 50-60 minutes. Drain and transfer to a serving bowl to cool slightly.
For the dressing: whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl and season with salt, cayenne and black pepper to taste. Dip a piece of lettuce in the dressing to taste for seasoning.
Combine green onions, radishes and greens with the wheat berries in the serving bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat lightly.
I just spent a lovely four days in Park City, Utah enjoying the clean air and the peace and quiet (outdoors, of course; indoors I have my three kids and two of their friends, so no peace and quiet in the house from noon ’til midnight.) There are no televisions and I insist that the kids leave the phones in their bedrooms so we can hike and dine without the ping of 6 iPhones. Heaven.
Of course, with travel comes a deviation from eating the way I like to eat. I consumed a little too much guacamole and chips a little too late at night, and then someone tried to torture me by buying a container of Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter. I had mentioned it was like a more healthful Nutella, not that it was actually healthful. By the end, I missed my juicer and my garden and all I wanted to eat were salads and vegetables. In fact, I was craving this Green Goddess Salad while I was on the plane home.
No, I didn’t name this dressing after you. The original Green Goddess dressing was created at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel in the 1920’s, for the English actor George Arliss. Arliss was staying at the hotel and dined there every evening before he performed in a play called “The Green Goddess.” There are so many variations on this dressing, the base of which is usually mayonnaise, sour cream and tarragon — the only herb I don’t like. Can we still be friends? So considering I am using none of the above, I don’t know if I can actually call it a Green Goddess dressing. One day last summer, I tried to clean out some little bits of herbs that were lingering and blended them into my own version of the dressing and we all loved it. So feel free to adjust the recipe according to whatever herbs you have on hand, even if it’s tarragon. The kids think it tastes a little like ranch dressing. So I made more the next day and used it as a dip for raw vegetables.
Green Goddess is a creamy dressing that’s a nice break from traditional vinaigrettes, and one that works well with crisp and sturdy lettuces. There are dozens of ways to enjoy this salad, even as a main course, since so many things work well with the dressing. Here I used tomatoes and radishes, which are both perfectly obvious, but you can add hard boiled eggs, shrimp, poached chicken, cucumber, avocado, and/or corn. One day I took a few beefy tomatoes from the garden, sliced them up and drizzled this over. Whatever you do, don’t leave out the anchovy paste — it really adds a little salty something and doesn’t taste at all fishy. Your kids and your picky spouse don’t need to know it’s in there. In fact, they don’t need to know anything other than you made up your own Ranch dressing.