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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Chopped Nicoise Salad for Summer

My two days on the South Beach Diet were a bust, mostly because the half-dozen giant pluots I bought last week were just dying to be eaten and the thought of not eating fruit for more than three days is absolutely unbearable. I live in California, after all--strawberries year-round, yummy apples, fresh citrus of all kinds, all that good stuff--unbearable, I tell you! Breakfast for me has been a sliced sweet-tart yellow-purple pluot with a pan-fried salt-and-peppered egg on a slice of whole wheat toast, dry. If that isn't totally virtuous, I don't know what is!

As it turns out, salad for breakfast is a much better option, or so says my mother. Her tried-and-true method of jump-starting a diet is basically that, salad or oatmeal for breakfast every day and try to eat less rice for dinner. I'm much more of a salad-for-dinner girl, since the thought of waking up to salad is entirely too depressing to even consider. The best salad I ever tasted was at a small bistro (I'm not trying to be facetious, you guys, this is a true story) in Manhattan after wandering out of the Bowery Ballroom around ten o'clock at night with my college roommate. It was bitterly cold, we were hungry college students in need of a drink and a quiet minute to process what the hell we were doing in New York City, and we found ourselves in front of one of those places staffed by handsome but heavily tattooed artiste types who play Edith Piaf on vinyl by the kitchen and have wine parties in the back of the restaurant. Needless to say, I wanted to live in that bistro for the rest of my life when they brought my salad nicoise, it was so perfect.

I've tried desperately for the past two years to recreate the perfect salad nicoise, and I think I've come up with an easy, stylish alternative to the real thing. All you'll need is a trip to the grocery store, a sharp chopping knife, and a sense of satisfaction without the potatoes or green beans. Those are just a hassle. The canned tuna packed in oil does, in fact, have more calories than regular canned tuna or a tuna steak, but the flavor and ease of having that oil already infused with tuna-ness keeps down the calorie count--you're making a light dressing in the bowl, not to drench the entire salad with. I even drained off most of the oil sitting in the can before using the tuna.

Here's my recipe:
1/2 head green leaf or other crisp lettuce, cold
2 Belgian endives and/or other salad-y veggies like sliced bell peppers, cucumber, or tomato
1 can chunk tuna packed in olive oil (I found garlic-olive-oil packed tuna, it adds so much flavor and goodness)
2 handfuls pitted black kalamata olives (if you have nicoise olives handy, use those to be authentic)
minced basil leaves, dried or fresh
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

1. Chop your salad vegetables into a desired size and shape. Wash the leafy greens in a colander after they're cut, it's easier to chop them dry. Chop the olives into thirds-ish chunks.
2. Toss the veggies and olives with the canned tuna, basil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, flaking the tuna with a fork as you toss.
3. Eat it like a champ. Feel healthy and utterly sophisticated.

All I need now is a baguette and a beret, or maybe some tattoos and an Edith Piaf record. There was that one boy with the clear plastic glasses frames on the subway in New York, all those years ago...ah, soulmates at first sight.

Image from inmagine.com.

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