Island Salad Niçoise: Page 86, Aloha Days Hula Nights

I’m a lover of all things French (and of the lovely Julia Child, who made French cuisine accessible to American home cooks), so I knew my block of sashimi-grade ahi would be put to good use in the Island Salad Niçoise on page 86 of Aloha Days Hula Nights, in the Salads – Savory section.

In French, “Niçoise” (pronounced “niece-was“) simply means “from Nice”, which is in the Provence region in the South of France.  For the salad, “Niçoise” refers to the traditional olive from Nice usually included in the recipe.

Now, salade Niçoise is a classic dish, and like all classic dishes, its “appropriate” ingredients and recipe are hotly disputed.  Purists like chef Jacques Médecin from the Provence region of French have many rules when it comes to the Niçoise: canned tuna or anchovies (never both, and never grilled fresh tuna), nothing cooked except the hard-boiled eggs (no potatoes or green beans, please), only olive oil and herbs for dressing (forget the vinegar!), plus the usual tomatoes, bell peppers, shallots, fava beans, and those Niçoise olives.

But a classic is always open to re-interpretation, and cooked potatoes, green beans, and vinegar have found their way onto many a Niçoise salad, along with grilled tuna, or ahi.  And I am glad to try an aloha version of one of my favorite salads with all of the above!

This salad was delicious.  So, so good.  The dressing was flavorful, the vegetable mixture was rich and satisfying, the salad greens were crispy and refreshing, and the ahi was smooth and smoky.  It’s a lot of work, but so worth it when it comes together on the plate.  I will definitely do some entertaining with this salad!

PS: Now, you’ll see from the picture that I let the ahi sear a little too long – I got too excited placing my capers just so on my hard-boiled eggs, if you want to know the truth.  You want nice rare ahi, so do as the recipe says!

Now that’s an entrée!  Who said salad can’t fill you up?

Island Salad Niçoise

AHI Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces good quality fresh ahi fillet
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

VINAIGRETTE Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup minced Maui onion
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried Maui lavender flowers
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

SALAD Ingredients:

  • 1 pound red potatoes, quartered
  • 3/4 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 4 ripe Kula tomatoes, diced
  • 1/3 cup sliced black olives
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 4 cups Kula salad greens or Manoa lettuce, washed and patted dry
  • 4 hard cooked eggs, peeled and quartered
  • 4 large anchovy fillets, minced
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • Several sprigs of fresh basil

Brush ahi with soy sauce and oil.  Sprinkle with thyme and pepper.  Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

Whisk together oil and vinegar in a small bowl until blended.  Whisk in onion, mustard, parsley, thyme, lavender, salt, and pepper.  Pour into bottle or jar with lid and set aside.

In a large saucepan, cover potatoes with water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain and place in a large bowl. Steam green beans about 2 minutes until bright green but still crisp.  Drain, and add to potatoes with tomatoes, olives, green onion, and basil.  Shake dressing well, pour half the vinaigrette over the vegetables.  Toss gently to coat.

Heat grill or heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Brush with olive oil.  Add ahi and sear both sides about 3 minutes each side.  Remove and let stand a few minutes before slicing thinly.  Ahi will be rare.  Place greens on serving platter.  Top with vegetable mixture.  Layer ahi slices on top.  Arrange quartered eggs around platter.  Sprinkle with anchovies and capers.  Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.  Garnish with fresh lemon slices and basil.  Serve.

Note: To hard cook eggs, place eggs in saucepan, cover with water, place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Turn off the heat, cover, and let stand 15 minutes.  Drain off warm water, place in bowl, cover with cold water.  Let stand 5 minutes to cool.

Edible dried lavender flowers can be obtained from natural food stores.

Serves 4 to 6.

Buy the cookbook at www.juniorleagueofhonolulu.org (click the eStore tab).  All proceeds go to support our charitable work in Honolulu, Hawai’i.

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