My friend Kate was coming over for lunch and so I was trying to decide what to make for us to eat. Kate is a vegetarian, but she does eat fish so that gave me a little focus. But there are a few more things to consider. You see, Kate is rather picky. She doesn't like anything mushy and she doesn't like any sort of soup which apparently goes back to a bad experience she had as a kid with a beef bullion cube. Since it's been warm out lately, I was thinking I might make us a pretty little salad, probably a Nicoise Salad. There was a recipe for one that I had made before that came from Tyler Florence's cookbook Eat This Book. It was a fairly standard Nicoise recipe, but rather than canned tuna it uses seared ahi. I know this is hardley a revolutionary variation, but what I particulary like about his recipe was the dressing, which is flavored with bright, fresh tarragon. I changed the recipe a little by adding some lemon zest as well as the juice.
several handfulls mixed baby greens
1/2 pound small red new potatoes, boiled and then either quartered or sliced
4 large eggs, hard boiled and sliced
1/4 pound steamed haricot verts or small green beans, stems trimmed
1/2 pint teardrop or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup Nicoise olives
8 anchovy fillets (optional)
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1/4 bunch fresh chives, finely sliced
extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sushi-grade Ahi tuna
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, potatoes, haricot verts, tomatoes, olives, anchovies (if using), and the capers. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet or cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat and add a little oil. Season the tuna with salt, pepper and a little drizzle of the tarragon vinaigrette. When the pan is hot, add the tuna and sear for about 2 minutes per side, turning once. Transfer the tuna to a cutting board and slice into 1/2 inch thick slices. The tuna should still be very pink in the middle.
Toss the salad with enough of the dressing to moisten everything, being careful not to mush up any of the more delicate ingredients like the tomatoes or capers.
To serve, place several slices of the tuna on individual plates or a serving platter and top with a mound of the dressed salad greens and vegetables. Scatter some of the slice egg on and around the plate. A little more dressing may be drizzled on if desired. Give the whole thing one last grinding of black pepper and then sprinkle with the chopped chives.
Kate loved the salad and since the recipe serves four, I wound up with enough, greens, eggs, potatoes, green beans and olives for two more salads. The next night my friend Eliza came over for dinner. Like Kate, she too is a vegetarian so I made another Nicoise for the two of us, only this time I used a can of marinated tuna that I had in my cupboard. It was good too, but the seared Ahi really makes it special.