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These are my two favorite potato salad recipes – not your usual American potato salad with loads of mayo and maybe sour cream and hard-boiled eggs and celery and whatever. Except for the potatoes, these two couldn’t be more different.

The first is herbed potato salad. When I co-owned Fête Accomplie, a catering business and gourmet carry out in Washington D.C. in the 80’s, it was one of our most popular dishes. I think people liked the fact that it’s healthier than most potato salads, goes with just about everything, keeps for days,  and – need I say – is also quite delicious.

Herbed Potato Salad

Serves 4-6 

Ingredients:

1-1/2 lbs. small red (or white) potatoes

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped mint

1/4 cup chopped dill

1/4 chopped chives or green onions

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

Boil the potatoes in salted water until just cooked. Drain well. When cool enough to handle, cut them in half and put them in a bowl along with the chopped herbs.  

Make the dressing:  Mix all the ingredients together in a pestle and mortar or bowl. Add to the potatoes and herbs. Toss well. It can be served at once but keeps for several days in the refrigerator.

Note: I have found that it tastes quite differently if dressed when the potatoes are warm and absorb the dressing well. If you dress them when they get cold, the dressing mostly simply coats the potatoes.  I’m not sure which I prefer. You’ll have to try it both ways and decide for yourself. 

Note from Brad:  If you happen to have any cooked mussels on hand (here in France we often do), shell them and mix them into this potato salad, leaving out the mint and dill. It’s a poor man’s Salade Francillon (minus the black truffles), a recipe created by Alexander Dumas.  It’s a real treat.

The second is my version of Ensalada Rusa, which, surprise, surprise, originated in Russia, but has for many years been found on the counters of tapas bars in Spain. It is also wildly popular in Latin America and elsewhere. The original Russian version called Salade Olivier contained such exotic ingredients as grouse and crayfish, but it has moved a long way since then. It is still quite exotic with, beside the potatoes, additions such as peas, carrots, green beans, roasted red peppers, olives, tuna and hard-boiled eggs. I usually make it for festive occasions like the Fourth of July or Bastille Day. I like to mound it up on a platter like a cake so that it can be cut into wedges. As you can see from the picture, I sometimes get a little carried away with the decoration.

If I’m going to serve it on its own as a tapa or separate course, I usually add the tuna and  hard-boiled eggs. But I leave them out if it’s accompanying a barbeque or other main course dishes. It’s very rich and goes a long way but is still worth making in fairly large quantity, as it’ll keep in the refrigerator for a few days and is certainly worth a second visit.

Ensalada Rusa

Serves several

Ingredients:

2 lbs. medium-sized potatoes such as Yukon Gold, peeled

2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4″ dice 

1 cup frozen peas (or you can use 2 cups frozen peas and carrots)

1 roasted red pepper cut into thin strips (you can use canned)

10 pimento-stuffed green olives

1 – 1-1/2 cups mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon garlic 

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Optional:

1 cup cooked small green beans, cut into 1/2″ pieces

1 6 oz. can tuna, drained and flaked

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped fine

A few black olives, pitted

Boil the potatoes until cooked but still firm. Drain them, and when they’re cool, cut them into about 1/2″ dice. Cook the carrots, adding the peas to the water for the last few minutes (or cook frozen peas and carrots according to the package directlons.) Drain well. Cut half the pepper strips into small dice, saving the rest for decoration. Slice the green olives into 4 or 5, saving half for decoration. Put the potatoes, carrots, peas, chopped peppers and olives into a mixing bowl, along with the optional green beans.  If you’re planning on using tuna and/or eggs, add them as well, saving some of the chopped egg for decoration.

Mash the garlic with a little salt and mix in the mayonnaise and the lemon juice. Add one cup of it to the bowl and gently  and thoroughly toss the whole thing, adding salt and pepper to taste.  The mayo should just bind the ingredients. You may need a bit more but you should not end up with a bowl of goop. (It will still taste good if you do.)    

Now comes the fun part: Mound the salad on a platter, shaping it like a cake. Decorate with the sliced peppers, olives, and chopped egg if you’re using it. I add a few black olives for color if I have them on hand. The flavor will improve if you let it sit for an hour or two. Be prepared for lots of “ooh’s” and “aah’s” when you serve it.

Nice is our favorite city in France, possibly the world.  With its spectacular placement between the Alps and the Mediterranean, historic old town, vibrant street market and upscale shops, it’s always a pleasure to visit.

At our favorite restaurant in the old town, Bistro d’Antoine, I recently ordered the salade Niçoise at the urging of our waitress who assured me that it was both “differente et delicieuse”. On one side was a pile of dressed roquette (arugula). In the middle were a couple of house-cured anchovies, a small piece of grilled fresh tuna, and a beautiful barely-cooked half egg. On the other side was a pile of finely chopped and dressed veggies – fava beans, fresh peas, baby artichokes, fennel, zucchini, radish, red and green peppers, tomatoes, basil and olives -that Antoine the owner painstakingly ennumerated, none of them cooked. And the fresh anchovies and tuna? “I never use anything canned”, he explained.

It was indeed so delicious that we hastened to make it a few days later, including curing our own fresh anchovies, but for us it was a “new” salad, not the Niçoise we’ve known and been making for centuries.

There are basically three kinds of Salade Niçoise – the original (stoutly defended by locals as the only authentic one) which has no COOKED vegetables of any sort; the one served almost universally which includes COOKED potatoes and green beans; and one that has emerged in recent years which is topped with a piece of grilled fresh tuna instead of the more traditional canned.  Our preferred version is the second one. The good thing about it is that it’s suitable for so many occasions – lunch, a simple summer dinner for four or a larger gathering, and kids love it.

I must admit that I’m fairly rigid about what goes into my salade Niçoise. The essentials: lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, black olives, cooked green beans and potatoes, canned tuna and anchovies; optionals: radish, sweet white onion, red pepper slices, capers and fresh herbs.

SALADE NIÇOISE

Serves 4 

 Ingredients:

 1/2 lb. green beans (the freshest and youngest you can find)

1 lb. new potatoes, either red or white skinned

2 eggs

2 or 3 ripe tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), quartered or halved lettuce

basil leaves (optional)

a dozen black olives

1 can or bottle of the best tuna (preferably Spanish or Italian) in olive oil

1 can flat anchovies (or packed in salt or home cured)

For the vinaigrette:

1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vinegar 

1/2 cup olive oil

Pepper

Vinaigrette:

Crush the garlic with the salt in a pestle and mortar.  Add the vinegar, then the olive oil and a good grinding of pepper.

Mix well.

Top and tail the beans and cook them to the degree of “doneness”  that you like.  Immediaty rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking and drain well. Mix with a teaspoon of the vinaigrette.

Cook the potatoes (15-25 minutes, depending on size). If they’re small, I like to leave the skins on.  Otherwise peel. When cool enough to can handle, cut into bite-size pieces and dress with a good tablespoon of the vinaigrette.  You can add herbs if you like – tarragon, parsley, and chives are all a welcome addition.

Put the eggs in a pan of cold water.  Bring just to the boil, cover, turn off the heat and leave for 12 minutes. Rinse in cold water, peel and cut in half lengthwise.

Now comes the fun part – assembling the dish.  You will need a fairly large platter.  I like to line it with beautifully fresh lettuce leaves, torn into manageable pieces.  Then I put the tuna in the center and surround it with piles of potatoes, green beans, sliced tomatoes, and the halved eggs.  Let your artistic juices flow.  Decorate with the olives, anchovies, and, if you choose, any of the following: basil leaves,  thin slices of red pepper, radishes, sweet onion and capers.  Dressing the dish is a bit tricky.  You already have some vinaigrette on the beans and potatoes but now you have to distribute the rest of it, particularly on the tomatoes and lettuce.  Sometimes it’s easier to just spoon it onto individual plates after serving.  But do serve it at once – with some crusty French bread and a glass or two of Provençal rosé.  Bon appetit!

Variations:  To make Bistro Antoine’s salade Nicoise, chop a selection of the vegetables mentioned into a dice and dress with the vinaigrette in my recipe, saving some for the roquette.  Serve with tuna, either cooked or canned, anchovies, and hard boiled eggs.

For version three, grill a 12-oz. piece of tuna on the barbeque or a grill pan and place it in the center of “my” salad instead of the canned tuna.  Three oz. a person should be plenty.

One could long debate the authenticity of any single recipe.  My only guarantee is that, whatever recipe you follow, you and your fellow eaters are in for a treat.

 

The first thing we do after we’re settled in is plant our lettuces. Not too many of them, nor a great variety, but there aren’t many things better than a salad made of greens rushed from the garden to the salad bowl. Just a simple vinaigrette and Bob’s your Uncle!

When we first bought our one-and-a-half acre property twenty years ago, we were much more ambitious.  We planted all sorts of crops –  fava beans, okra, corn, zucchini, and or course tomatoes – in that first flush of “back to the land” when you actually think that you are going to “grow your own vegetables”. The okra and corn were to replace two veggies that we love in America and thought we couldn’t live without in France. Wrong. It also took us far more years than it should have to realize that each precious tomato cost us 10 times as much in both personal energy and water than the better-tasting tomatoes we could buy from other tomato growers in the village.  We still persist with the lettuces because they’re so easy and rewarding; and zucchini (courgettes, here) mainly for the flowers, which are never better fried or stuffed than when you pluck them from your own garden.

Another thing we haven’t given up on is the herb garden. Many herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme, and savory grow wild here but we make sure we have a ready supply of basil, tarragon, mint, chives, sorrel, bay leaves and quite a few others as well.

We eat very differently in San Francisco and Provence:  San Francisco is a wonderful food city with an incredible range of ethnic  restaurants and ingredients from around the world, simply unheard of in France.  But while the French are, let’s say, quite insular in their tastes, the quality and variety of their raw ingredients is unsurpassed.  You might be able to track down rabbits, quails, ducks, foie gras, spanking-fresh fish, shellfish and veggies in San Francisco (often at considerable cost), but these are readily available here in supermarkets and village markets for everyday consumption.

I’m not going to spend six months saying how much better the raw materials are here.  But I will have to limit what I can blog about when I know that grilled fresh sardines wrapped in vine leaves or a roasted loin of rabbit or a whole fresh foie gras poached in the oven would probably be a stretch outside of France. Hopefully there are still enough ingredients-in-common to keep recipes flowing.

Spring Garden Salad

I have been making salad dressing in a pestle and mortar since I started cooking.  If the greens are very delicate, I probably use only my best olive oil, a splash of vinegar or lemon and salt and pepper.  For other salads I might start by crushing garlic or shallots with salt, adding mustard or not, and using a variety of oils and vinegars to bring out the best in the ingredients.  In most cases I go light on the vinegar – about 4 or 5 to 1 oil to vinegar.  I think vinegar too often dominates and overwhelms.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

4 cups of the freshest salad greens available

A small shallot

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, or a little more if you prefer

2 tablespoons good olive oil

Salt (preferably Maldon) and freshly ground black pepper

Crush the shallot with a half teaspoon of salt.  Add the vinegar and let macerate while you wash and dry the greens, leaving no trace of water.  Stir the oil into the dressing.  Do not dress the salad until you’re ready to eat it. (You can wipe out the pestle and mortar with a few of the leaves.) Add freshly ground pepper at the table.

This picture we took at our favorite San Francisco sushi bar last weekend has inspired me to sing the praises of uni. The word is Japanese for the coral “roe” (actually the gonads) of a sea urchin – oursin in French, riccio in Italian, erizo in Spanish, all meaning hedgehog. I don’t volunteer this information to show off my language skills, but if you’re as passionate about uni as we are, you need to know it in many languages so you don’t miss it on your travels.

It’s one of those things like anchovies and oysters that people either love or hate. Count us among the lovers. Probably the best we ever had was in a coastal restaurant north of Valparaiso in Chile.  Good luck brought us there at the height of the season. There were huge mounds on offer, each one bigger than a softball – hefty, luscious, and cheap!

We eat them regularly in France, where they are in season during the cold months, but we’ve had them as far apart as Seville and Sicily at other times of the year. Our enthusiasm has led us to buy them several times at the market with less than stellar results in their preparation. Better, we’ve decided, to have them at a restaurant. In recent years uni has spread beyond the sushi bar into sauces, often for pasta, in trendy restaurants worldwide. Here in San Francisco, most come up from southern California, removed from the shell, cleaned and packed in little Japanese-style wooden trays. Occasionally, we get them as you see here – in their spiky shells live and fresh from Mendicino. How to describe the flavor?  Briny, sweet, buttery, rich. You think maybe this is the fois gras of the sea.  We like it best in a sushi handroll called a bakudan – rice, shisho leaf, ikura (salmon eggs) and hopefully a lot of uni. Divine!

My first encounter with a sea urchin was many years ago when I spent a summer on the Greek island of Spetsos. I had been swimming and sat on a rock in the water and inadvertently on a sea urchin that was clinging to it. Several of its spines pierced through my swimsuit, broke off and lodged in my bottom. They are impossible to remove. So they stayed with me, a very uncomfortable human pincushion, until they emerged one by one weeks later. In view of this, I suppose it’s surprising that I am so fond of these hazardous little critters but when it comes to the pleasures of eating, it’s easy to be forgiving.

So next time you’re at a sushi bar, try some uni. You’ll either love it or hate it.