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Salade Nicoise is a classic French composed salad that can be made year round but is extra special each summer when produce brims from gardens. This version can be made with the traditional tuna, salmon or baby sardines, which are high in calcium.
My version also offers a nightshade-free roasted root combo, for Keto & AIP, that’s potato-free. Or certainly, potatoes can be used for Paleo, Whole30 and non-Low Carb.
Salade Nicoise has everything beautiful for a satisfying, easy Paleo, AIP, Keto, Whole30 or GAPS diet meal.
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Salade Nicoise in my childhood
I am blessed to have great memories of a childhood filled with gourmet meals. Today I share with you Salade Nicoise — a French composed salad.
One of the places my mom took me as a child for special lunches was Cafe LauTrec in La Jolla, California (in operation from 1973-2007).
The walls were covered with giant, bright paintings by Toulouse LauTrec. We would always order the Salade Nicoise.
Ingredients in Salade Nicoise
- The lettuce used in Salade Nicoise goes by three names: Boston, Butter or Bibb. It’s the loveliest lettuce, in my opinion, truly deserving of a name like Butter …
- Marinated Dilled Onions (or Cucumbers for Keto/if preferred)
- Blanched and dressed Green Beans or Asparagus
- Cured olives
- Vine-ripened tomatoes (omit for AIP)
- Roasted Roots (for Keto and AIP) or Marinated Potato Salad
- Pasture-raised hard-boiled eggs, full of good cholesterol and omega-3s (omit for AIP)
- Lots of fresh dill
- and a Fresh Herb Vinaigrette.
Tuna, salmon, sardines and seafood options for Salade Nicoise
Many kinds of seafood are fitting and good on Salade Nicoise: canned tuna, seared tuna, cold-smoked ahi tuna, fresh seared salmon, cold smoked or hot smoked salmon, canned sardines and fresh canned anchovies.
Each has different health benefits, and each creates a very different mood for the salad:
- Canned tuna comes in inexpensive tins or more gourmet jars. High quality albacore tuna is also now vacuum-packed. Choose a variety of tuna that fits your family’s or the occasion’s needs.
- Regarding tuna: Vacuum packed albacore tuna is a good choice health-wise, although it doesn’t have the same calcium benefits as fish packed with its bones. More nutrients are preserved with this method of packaging, including fragile omega-3s. There are a few companies now processing tuna in this way.
- Seared tuna and fresh seared salmon are decidedly gourmet and impressive.
- Both of these make a great choice for guests or special meals, because everyone goes, Wow, at the pretty yum factor.
- I like to pan-sauté (sear) my fish for excellent flavor and texture on the surface and interior of the flesh.
- Cold smoked tuna or salmon are elegant and light, while still being affordable.
- Hot smoked salmon is strong in flavor and cuts down on any prep work, because it’s ready to serve right from the package.
- Canned sardines and anchovies are super healthy and not ideal to serve to most guests, but definitely scrumptious if you like health food. These are great options for the AIP and GAPS diets, or anyone looking to add more omega-3s or calcium to their diet. I grew up eating both, so I like them.
- Under-used and under-appreciated, sardines are high in calcium, having all their little bones canned with them. Brisling sardines are baby sardines. Their texture and overall appeal are superior to full size sardines because they’re more delicate.
- Fresh canned anchovies are similar: small and mild like sardines, not salty; so they make a nice alternative.
Small fish are very European. Sardines and fresh anchovies are very commonly eaten throughout Italy.
I chose both seared salmon and sardines for this salad the day I photographed. Serving Salade Nicoise with two kinds of fish makes it look very European and inviting.
Here are my broader views about seafood, why I believe it to be a safe and recommended protein source.
Salade Nicoise for Paleo, Keto, AIP …
Depending on your diet, the veggies in this salad will vary:
Paleo, Whole30, GAPS
All Salades Nicoise feature potato salad, dressed simply in olive oil and sea salt, sometimes with shallots, vinegar and fresh herbs.
This is a great option and offers resistant starch for those who can have potatoes.
If green beans and tomatoes are not yet in season, and good asparagus is available, consider making the salad seasonally with slight variations based on what’s growing locally. Because I photographed my salad late spring early summer, I used fresh asparagus.
AIP and Keto
Use asparagus, olives and instead of potatoes, Roasted Root Veggies (recipe below in the Notes section).
The creamy roots have a similar flavor profile to potatoes, so delicious: rutabaga, black radish and celery root. The rutabaga is omitted for Keto.
For AIP, omit the tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs.
Optional: Capers may also be added.
You can see below that each salad can be made slightly differently to meet various dietary preferences or needs.
How to make Salade Nicoise faster and easier
One of the neatest things about Salade Nicoise is its presentation: individual composed salads. This makes the prep actually very easy, as well as beautiful and fun.
- Fill each plate with butter lettuce.
- Add the various marinated salads next to one another artistically: Dilled Onions or Cucumbers, Root Veggies or Marinated Potatoes, and Blanched Green Beans or Asparagus.
- Add fish of choice to one side.
- Garnish the plates with olives and then optional hard boiled eggs and tomatoes (omit both for AIP).
- Finish the plates with lots of fresh dill sprigs. Fresh tarragon is also delicious and very French.
- When you’re ready to serve, drizzle a little vinaigrette over all. Grind fresh pepper or offer it at the table (omit for AIP).
If you want to make this salad extra easy, just prep a few things ahead of time: Dilled Onions or Cucumbers, Root Veggies or Marinated Potatoes and the Vinaigrette Dressing.
I like to make these three in the morning. Then, assembling the individual salads is really fast and easy at lunch or dinner time!
Salade Nicoise with Salmon, Tuna or Sardines
- saute pan (not needed for sardine version)
- 1 large head, or 2 small heads butter lettuce washed and dried
- 1-½ pounds fresh salmon , fresh tuna, OR 2 to 3 cans sustainably-sourced canned sardines, fresh canned anchovies, or vacuum packed albacore tuna (See how to sauté fresh salmon or tuna in Notes below.)
- 4 hard-boiled eggs halved; see recipe in Notes below
- 1 recipe Blanched Green Beans or Asparagus see recipe in Notes below; Keto & AIP: use asparagus.
- 1 recipe Marinated Dilled Onions see recipe in Notes below; Keto: sub cucumbers for the onions.
- 1 recipe Roasted Root Veggie "Potato" Salad see recipe in Notes below or make the Marinated Potato Salad recipe (for Paleo, Whole30 and GAPS) also in Notes below
- 1 vine-ripened tomato cut into 8 wedges (omit for AIP)
- ½ cup olives oil-cured
- 1 recipe Fresh Herb Vinaigrette (You may also use this Creamy Tarragon Dressing, if preferred. Not for AIP.)
- several sprigs fresh dill and/or fresh tarragon
- freshly ground black pepper omit for AIP
- Arrange chopped or torn lettuce in the center of the platter or on individual plates.
- Place Marinated Dilled Onions or Cucumbers in the center of the platter/plates.
- Arrange all the other components decoratively around the onions: green beans or asparagus, hard-boiled eggs, salmon or sardines (or other fish), tomatoes, olives and the roasted root veggies or potato salad. (For AIP, omit green beans, tomatoes and eggs; use asparagus.)
- Garnish with fresh dill or tarragon and black pepper (omit for AIP). Drizzle decoratively with the dressing and serve the remaining dressing on the side.
Pan-seared salmon or ahi tuna
- 1-½ pounds fresh salmon or ahi tuna
- 2 Tablespoons butter, or use olive oil for AIP and dairy-free
- sea salt, to taste
- Heat cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Add olive oil or butter to melt.
- Place fish in the pan, and for salmon, reduce heat to medium. Sprinkle top side of fish with sea salt.
- Cooking time will depend on the thickness of your fish steaks or fillets and variety of fish. For salmon, cook 3 to 5 minutes on the first side; then flip, sprinkle second side with sea salt, and cook 3 to 5 minutes on the second side. Check for desired doneness, allowing for a darker pink in the middle for medium-rare fish. For fresh ahi tuna, sear for as little as 1 minute on each side.
Perfectly Hard Boiled Eggs (omit for AIP)
- Place eggs in saucepan of lightly salted room temperature or cold water.
- Bring the water to boil. Once boiling, cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and cover for 6 minutes.
- Plunge eggs or rinse them in cold water.
- Peel. (Eggs that are less fresh will peel more easily.)
Blanched Green Beans or Asparagus
- 1 pound green beans or asparagus, washed and stems removed
- 8 cups water
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- Bring water and salt to a boil.
- Add the green beans and simmer 10 minutes. If using asparagus, simmer 4 minutes.
- Drain and rinse under cold water.
- Chill until ready to serve.
- Optional: Gently dress and toss with extra of the Fresh Herb Vinaigrette.
Dilled Marinated Onions or Cucumbers
- 1 large or 2 small sweet onions, such as Maui, Walla Walla or Vidalia halved and thinly sliced OR, for Keto/if preferred, 1 large cucumber, peeled, de-seeded and sliced thinly
- 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon dried dill weed
- 2 generous pinches sea salt
- Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and chill until ready to serve, ideally 20 minutes or longer.
Roasted "Potato" Salad ~ Celery Root and Black Radish (Keto and AIP)
- 1 large rutabaga peeled and cut into 1" cubes (only for AIP; omit for Keto)
- 1 large celery root peeled and cut into 1" cubes
- 1 large black radish peeled and cut into 1" cubes (increase to 2 radishes for Keto); okay to use other varieties of radishes, too
- ¼ cup avocado oil or preferred fat for roasting veggies
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Toss veggie cubes with oil and sea salt, to coat.
- Spread evenly on large cookie sheet and bake 25 minutes. Check for how brown the undersides are getting. Toss them and bake up to 15 additional minutes.
- Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Marinated Potato Salad
- 6 medium-size potatoes of choice (up to 2 pounds)
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Place potatoes in large saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool.
- Peel and cube potatoes. Place in a large bowl.
- Add dressing ingredients, and stir to mix.