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True salad days

Tasting

NICE AND EASY Salade Niçoise is a tasty traditional dish named after the French town of Nice.  Pic: Flickr.com/cyclonebill

Food

Redmond Cabot

When I was growing up, salad was a simple affair. Lettuce. The wide, floppy-leaved variety. Sliced tomatoes. There might have been a rolled-up sliced of ham. A slice of cheese. Maybe a hardboiled egg. And scallions, crisscrossed over the lot. And a lash of salad cream. It’s old style, but it’s still pretty good!
Nowadays, some very, very bad things have been done to salad in the name of profit. You can buy ready made salad dishes at some deli counters that contain slimy, yucky, un-fresh ingredients. I’ve read coleslaw labels that list sugar. Why, oh why?
Make your own, nice, coleslaw. Using a sharp knife shred a bit of cabbage (red or white), grate a carrot, add some finely chopped onion (red or white), and throw in a bit of parsley if you have it handy. Add mayonnaise and a spoon of mustard, salt and pepper. Mix it all together. Fresh, homemade coleslaw is a delicious addition to a baked potato, or on a cheese roll with nice crusty bread). Mass-produced coleslaw: The work of the devil!
Ready washed salad bags are a big temptation on the shop shelf. The lazy in me can succumbs to their instant charms. The leaves look lovely and fresh and firm. I sometimes eat these and they are fine, but they never have the flavour their pretty appearance seems to offer. Also, they are very expensive.
For a soft and pleasing flavour, it’s hard to go wrong with the old-fashioned butterhead lettuce. Give it a quick wash and a twirl in the salad spinner; the bit of effort pays off. A peppery rocket is good too.
Make a mezze plate with whatever you have handy. Some leaves, a bit of hummus (your own, or mine!). Deseed and slow roast a few long, pointy sweet red peppers in olive oil in a tin covered with tinfoil, and peel – delicious. Fry or grill a few slices of haloumi cheese, and squeeze a bit of lemon over them. Maybe fry up a few prawns in garlic and chili? Assemble everything to look pretty on the plate.

David’s dressing
My go-to dressing for the leaves comes from my dad, David. He makes the best salad dressing I’ve ever tasted. He puts ‘a tad’ of cider vinegar in a jar. Adds a spoon of mustard, a spoon of honey, a pinch of salt and pepper, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and mixed herbs. He mixes this together, and then adds olive oil (‘a good bit’) puts the lid on the jar and shakes. I suspect he’s withholding a secret ingredient though, because my version is never as good as his!
One of the favourite meals in our house is Salade Niçoise, named after Nice, the town in France. I have to be careful here, as purists are bitterly divided what constitutes the most authentic version. Is it tuna or anchovies, or both? Potatoes or no potatoes? Broad beans or French beans? So as not to offend anyone, I am going to state now that this is my own version, and it’s just very nice indeed.

Red’s Nice Salad
What you need

  • 4 marinated tuna steaks
  • 1kg baby potatoes
  • 4 boiled eggs (hard but not too hard)
  • 800g French beans
  • 1 red or green pepper
  • 1 punnet of sweet cherry/vine tomatoes
  • Half a cucumber
  • 4 little gem lettuces
  • 100g pitted black olives
  • 1 handful torn basil leaves
  • Seasoning
  • A jar of David Cabot’s salad dressing (see above)


What you do next
Marinate the tuna steaks with a bit of David’s dressing at least an hour before cooking. You could also leave them overnight in the fridge. Sometimes, I also put a splash of soya sauce over them.
Steam the baby potatoes (depending on size, 10-20 minutes). The Brunette favours Annabels if you can get your hands on them. Put the eggs in room-temperature water. Bring to the boil and simmer for three minutes. Place in a bowl of cold water.
Trim the French beans, cook in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes until done. Plunge into a bowl of cold water, then strain.
Wash and spin the lettuce. Deseed and chop the pepper. Slice the tomatoes in half, and sprinkle with sea salt. (Some skin and seed the tomatoes, I don’t think you need to.) Peel and chop the cucumber into half-moon slices.
Sear the tuna steaks on a griddle pan, cook for about two minutes on each side. Place on the dinner plates.
Arrange the salad leaves, green beans, tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, basil, peeled and quartered boiled eggs and olives as artfully as you can. All those colours look sensational. Drizzle with David’s dressing to taste. Serve the buttered baby potatoes in a bowl and let everyone help himself or herself.

Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.

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