Trial: I get on my bike to run some errands, including a grocery store trip to get ingredients for a classic French salade nicoise. I have a craving for slick, smushed beads of brininess otherwise known as olives. It’s almost ninety degrees outside. I get out of the store, unlock my bike, and get on it only to find that the back tire is sagged like an empty sail.
Retribution: The nearest bike shop is uncannily nearby. They fix my back tire in exchange for a sweaty $10 and I get back on and hop home. I take a bunch of food photos in a rush to get to my next destination, a dinner party I was to spend the afternoon helping cook for, and a much-needed shower.
Trial, redux: I have negative-thirty minutes to get to my destination. But I’m least I’m showered, fed and my ride is newly fixed. Once outside my lobby, I seat myself on my bike, only to find that the back tire is sagged like an empty sail. (Strange fact: I’ve never gotten a flat tire before. But the last time I went to the same person’s place for dinner, my chain snapped in the middle of the street.) I don’t know why this is happening to me. I thought mercury retrograde was over?
Retribution: I’m much farther from the same bike shop I went to earlier in the day. It feels like ninety-five degrees now. I wave at vans and SUVs charging down a busy street and finally one pulls over; I ask the guy inside for a lift to the bike shop. He not only gives me a ride but his business card, a wholesome, harmless chat, and the parting words: “I’m happy to be a neighbor.”
By now, you’ve read the preliminary trials and retributions of the day and are probably wondering, now what the heck does this have to do with salade nicoise? In the end, though, it doesn’t. Because the final trial occurred the next day, when, after a perfectly delightful evening cooking and dining with friends, I turned on my camera only to find that I’d accidentally erased all the photos I’d taken the day before. And I’d eaten all the salade nicoise contained in the photos the day before, too.
So the final retribution of the story, you see, is Salade Me-coise. Not by-the-book, proper salade nicoise (not that I tend to cook anything by the book), but a confluence of some of its typical ingredients, leftovers, and other things I sort of hold dear. Frozen edamame? I can’t live without them. As I no longer had green beans as I did for the previous day’s version, into the salad these steamed and husked beans went. Radishes and onions were plentiful in my refrigerator, so I gave them a good slice, too. And in place of the olives I’d all but gobbled up, I found an old but still-good container of olive tapenade in my fridge (a relic from a get-together), thinned it out with some vinegar and added fresh chopped herbs for a pungent, chunky dressing.
tapenade creates a thick dressing base
Shunned this time also was were the cold potatoes and hard-boiled egg, two signature ingredients that the salade nicoise is known for having (in fact, its Wikipedia entry states that it “should always” contain a number of certain things… sheesh). Though more cylindrical rings would have been aesthetically synonymous, I just didn’t feel like boiling anymore. But the quintessential ingredients for a salade nicoise, in my opinion at least, were still in check: some greens (baby arugula, in this case), and oil-packed Italian tuna.
(Somewhere in between the luxuriously dark, rich bluefin (which is rare and expensive, not to mention increasingly overfished) and the familiar white albacore, the type of tuna I’d purchased for this was yellowfin (aka “chunk light”). I’m not sure it was as flavorful as I was hoping it to be, but I guess that’s why it’s in a salad with all these other flavors and textures. The olive oil it’s packed in also provides flavor and half the dressing.)
olive-oil packed tuna: Do not drain
pre-dressing, everything is assembled
There’s of course no such thing as needing to follow any recipe or classic dish preparation by the book, especially for something as fluid as salads. But I didn’t really know what to call this one. Bad-luck day salad? Blown-out tire X2 a la thanks, broken glass-swept Brooklyn salade? Random this-and-thats from that-and-this previous meal salad?
Anyone who’s had a string of bad luck ever might wonder if things happened for a reason, as cheesy as it may sound. We all want retribution for our strife. And a lot of the times, maybe partially willed by later efforts, they do happen for good reason, as they did here. Because in the end, I like this Salade Me-coise better than its predecessor. Plus, the photos came out much better this time, too.
(makes 2 big servings)
1 can high-grade olive oil-packed Italian tuna
about 4 cups baby arugula
1/2 small onion (either red or white), thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2-3 radishes, thinly sliced
about 1 cup frozen edamame (in their pods, or 1/2 cup if already shelled from pods)
1 tablespoon olive tapenade
3 teaspoons cider vinegar
teaspoon each freshly chopped parsley and chives
freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional)
squirt of fresh lemon juice (optional)
Steam edamame for 4-5 minutes (or 3 minutes if using frozen edamame not still in their pods). Let cool, and separate the beans from their pods, if still in them (they should pop out easily). Discard pods and set aside.
Mix the olive tapenade, vinegar and chopped herbs in a small bowl until thoroughly blended.
Gently break the tuna into flakes with a fork. Combine all the ingredients, aside from the dressing in a large bowl. Add the dressing, black pepper to taste, optional lemon, and toss to coat evenly. Serve immediately.
(for 2 servings)
1 can Italian olive oil-packed tuna: $3.59
4 or so cups baby arugula mix (at $2/bag): $1.60
1 smallish red bell pepper (at $3.50/lb): $2.25
1/2 small onion (at $1/lb): $0.25
1 cup frozen edamame (at $1.25/bag): $0.35
2-3 radishes (at $1.25/lb): $0.20
1 tablespoon olive tapenade (at $5/small jar): $0.80
3 teaspoons cider vinegar: $0.10
2 teaspoons chopped parsley and chives (from houseplant): $0.10
Four brownie points: Whenever you’re dealing with olives, you’re in Sodium City. But with this salad, instead of getting one big bite of it at a time and with other bites zip, you have an even distribution of salt, which led me to not add any extra salt anywhere else in the recipe. I figure I used less total olives than the previous version, hence less salt. Edamame is a great source of protein, fiber and many other nutrients for few calories and sodium; oil-packed tuna, however, is much fattier and saltier though it yields valuable omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to help combat heart disease (mercury content notwithstanding).
Five maple leaves: There are a lot of factors determining how ocean-friendly canned tuna is, including what type of species they are, how they’re caught and where they’re caught. According to the Blue Ocean Institute guide, yellowfin tuna are commonly purse-seine-caught for the canned market, the method which famously can endanger dolphins. Then there is the issue of whether imported tuna, from seas where their populations are more abundant, is better than domestic tuna, where populations are greatly exploited. Just a few things to bear in mind when trying to choose the lesser(s) of a handful of evils. (Don’t you just love the Green Factor??)