It always seems to start with a craving, at least for me it does. The thing is, Mariposa – one of my favorite restaurants in Honolulu, where I have been countless times, alas without my camera (what was I thinking?) – had this wonderful Niçoise Salad with fresh seared Ahi (tuna) on their lunch menu for the longest time. Then, one day, pouf! It was gone! Not that they don’t have other really yummy selections on their menu, but… but, but… You know how it is when you go to a familiar restaurant with visions of a specific dish dancing in your head and, when you get there, what your mouth was watering for is gone? Yes, that is exactly what I am talking about.
Zoooo, I was left with no choice but to make it myself, which I did, adding a few extra Hawaiian touches like mango and lilikoi (passion fruit). And since it is rare these days that I cook – even for myself – without taking pics and sharing in a post, here it is! Gorgeous, isn’t it? Also light and perfect for summer, which is coming up soon.
Remove the Ahi and pouf! (here goes the pouf again), you have a vegetarian dish with still some protein (egg).
Assemble it in small bowls or plates and pouf! (there is really a lot of pouf in the air today), you have sliders or small appetizers. i am sure you can also make a sandwich out of it, one of those super tall, multi-layered ones that make your eyes pop while at the same time leave you clueless as to how you are going to eat them. The only reason why there is no photo of that is because it did not occur to me until a few days after the deed, when all the ingredients were gone.
The recipe is not so much a recipe as a list of ingredients that gets assembled together in balanced proportions. However I will give you the quantities that I used for guidance. And please, if you do not grow your own vegetables, buy organic and local as much as possible. I am saying this for your own good. *grin*
NIÇOISE SALAD HAWAI’I STYLE
yields about 5-6 meal size portions, or about 10-12 appetizer sizes
– 470 gr. (1 lb.) fresh green beans – the thin, tender kind – top end trimmed, filaments removed
– 470 gr. (1 lb.) red potatoes – or whichever kind you prefer – you can also buy small potatoes and calculate 2 per person
– 8 eggs (or 1 to 1 & 1/2 per person)
– 350 gr. (ca. 12 oz.) tomatoes – I used cherry ones, but you can use any you like – heirloom ones would be great
– 1 ripe but firm medium-large mango – peaches in season would be a good substitution if you don’t get good mangoes where you are
– 86 gr. (ca. 3 oz.) sushi grade Ahi (tuna) per person, so ca. 520 gr (18 oz.) (1.125 lb) total for 6 people
– Furikake of choice – a Japanese seasoning usually made with Nori and sesame seeds – there are different varieties, choose the one you prefer
– extra-virgin olive oil
– sea salt
– cayenne powder or crushed chilies
– freshly chopped parsley
– coarse sea salt
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– young green salads to make a base layer (which I did)
for the dressing:
– 1/3 cup strained lilikoi (passion fruit) juice – if you don’t want or can’t find passion fruit, by all means use lemon juice, maybe Meyer
– 3 teaspoons sea salt (or to taste)
– 2 & 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1. THE POTATOES
Simply boil the whole potatoes in salted water until just tender enough that a thin knife blade easily slides into them, but does not break them. The time will vary depending on the size of the potatoes, so try to purchase potatoes of similar size, it will make your job easier.
Drain the potatoes and set aside. If you like your potatoes peeled, it is much easier to do that while they are still hot. Wait a few minutes until they lose the worse of the heat, then hold the potato with a piece of kitchen paper that will shield your hand from the heat.
Cut the boiled potatoes into bite size pieces.
2. THE GREEN BEANS
Have an iced water bath ready. That would be a large bowl with water and ice in it. Bring a large pot of water to a bilk, add a handful of coarse sea salt just like you would when cooking pasta, add the green beans and the teaspoon of sugar. Cook for about 1-2 minutes, depending on how thick the green beans are, then, using a slotted spoon, lift them out and place them in the iced water bath to cool and stop the cooking process. Once cooled, drain from the iced water bath, gently pat them dry with kitchen paper or a cotton cloth and set aside.
This is a technique you can use when boiling most green vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, etc.) as the sugar helps maintain the vibrant green color, and the iced water bath stops them from overcooking by heat retention.
3. THE EGGS
Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt, cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Simmer half covered for about 5-6 minutes or however long it takes to achieve your preferred firmness. When done, drain the hot water and, if you can handle the eggs, roll them quickly on a surface to crack the shells lightly, then put them back in the saucepan and fill with cold water. After a couple of minutes drain them and peel them. If you are ready to assemble the salad, you can slice them into four and set aside. If not, leave them whole until ready to assemble.
4. THE AHI
Heat a grill pan on the stove. Place a couple of Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a dish. In another dish (or bowl) mix some Furikake, sea salt and cayenne and chili powder. You will do this in stages and add more of each as you need to, depending on your taste. Roll each single portion piece of Ahi into a little e-v olive oil then into the Furikake-spice mix until coated all around. Place it on the hot grill pan to sear a little on each side. Ahi cooks quickly, so if you like yours rare, don’t leave it on too long. I prefer mine in the medium range, a point at which it still retains its moisture.
Remove from the grill and slice using a sharp knife and the help of a long fork to help keep it in place. The sharper the knife, the cleaner the slices and the less crumbly the edges.
5. MANGO & TOMATOES
Simple enough. Slice the tomatoes into bite size pieces or wedges. I cut my cherry tomatoes simply in half.
Set the mango on its side and run a long, thin knife down starting in the center then moving the knife to the side feeling for the edge of the stone. Do the same on the other side. Trim any extra pieces left on the stone, peel and cut to bite size pieces. Take each half mango cheek in turn and, holding it cupped in your hand, pulp side up, make cross incisions with the tip of a paring knife, going as deep as possible without cutting through the skin (and your hand). Flip the mango cheek inside out and you will see those nice little mango squares show up for you, easy to be cut off into a bowl, perfectly bite size.
Of course, you can also simple peel those halves, and then slice them on a cutting board in whatever fashion you like. Just do not forget to slurp up any excess mango pulp from the bone. It is a messy job best done over the sink. That is my favorite part.
All of the above steps can be completed up to 1 day in advance, though you might want to hold on the slicing until 1-2 hours before ready to use.
6. THE VINAIGRETTE
Add the lilikoi (or lemon) juice and the salt to a bowl. Emulsify with a small whisk to melt the salt. Add the e-v olive oil and continue beating with the whisk until blended, creamy and opaque. This takes no time at all.
Assemble the salad in a large serving bowl, on single plates, small bowls or plates as might be your choice. Drizzle with the dressing, add a few olives each and sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley.
Pouf! Salad ready.
The assembled salad, undressed, can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
This salad is also perfect for picnics. Just leave the dressing in a separate container and drizzle once on location when ready to serve.
Do you like picnics? What is your favorite picnic food? And your favorite picnic place?
And if you enjoyed this recipe, here are a few more easy and light ones: