As the weather warms up and the days get longer, we find ourselves reaching for lighter meals. There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a bed of crisp lettuce, dressed in a tangy vinaigrette and topped with the season’s best produce. The classic Nicoise salad is one of our favorites because it hits all those notes: crisp green beans, soft potatoes, salty olives, juicy tomatoes, rich hard-boiled eggs and savory tuna. It somehow works as a light lunch or a filling dinner, all without changing the ingredients.
This French salad might seem like it’s fussy or requires adherence to strict rules, but we’ve found it’s strikingly easy to make. With a little prep work, this salad comes together in a matter of minutes. It’s also the perfect opportunity to use up produce that’s starting to wilt or leftovers from the fridge.
Let’s take a look at how to make a classic (and a not-so-classic) Nicoise salad.
What Is a Nicoise Salad?
Nicoise salad (pronounced nee-SWAZ) is a refreshing, colorful salad that comes from Nice, France. It’s known as a composed salad; The ingredients are assembled on top of the lettuce instead of being tossed together with a dressing. We know the salad was designed to celebrate the fresh produce available at the markets in Nice, but we can’t say for certain that the classic version was the original.
Today, most Nicoise salads contain green beans, hard-boiled eggs, olives, tomatoes and tuna, although many variations exist. Some people say it shouldn’t be made with lettuce—the toppings should be served on a bed of sliced tomatoes—while others say potatoes aren’t appropriate because the salad should contain raw vegetables only.
Tips on Selecting Ingredients
Nicoise salad is all about celebrating fresh ingredients, so we recommend buying the highest-quality ingredients you can. For vegetables, look to seasonal vegetables from the farmers market or fresh produce at the grocery store. Skip canned or frozen goods, if possible.
When shopping for tuna, choose water-packed tuna if you want to avoid extra fat and calories. Otherwise, oil-packed tuna is a great option for extra flavor. There’s no one best type of tuna—albacore, yellowfin or skipjack (also called light tuna)—but we like supporting “pole-and-line caught” or “troll-caught” brands. This method of fishing reduces bycatch and has the lowest impact on our ocean ecosystem.
We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about olives here! Nicoise olives are small, brine-cured olives produced in the French Riviera. They vary in color from deep olive to tan, and they have a mild but savory flavor. If you can’t find them, feel free to substitute Kalamata or Greek olives.
Essential Tools for Making a Nicoise Salad
Every great salad starts with a salad spinner ($30). It’s especially important if you’re working with head lettuce, which can be gritty and dirty inside without proper washing. Spinning the lettuce completely dry is the only way to ensure it won’t turn slimy in the refrigerator after a day or two.
We also love using a salad dressing shaker ($15) for making the dressing. Since this vinaigrette doesn’t contain any eggs or mayonnaise, it won’t create a solid emulsion. That means the oil and vinegar will separate over time, but a quick shake will bring them back into suspension!
An egg cooker ($30) is never a bad idea, either. It cooks perfect hard-boiled eggs, every time, so you’ll never have to worry about smelly, unappetizing overcooked eggs.
How to Make a Nicoise Salad
For the Dressing
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil
For the Salad
- 2 small red potatoes
- 1/2 cup cut fresh green beans
- 3-1/2 cups torn Bibb lettuce, washed and spun dry
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 10 Greek olives, pitted and halved
- 2 hard-boiled large eggs, quartered
- 1 (5-ounce) can albacore white tuna in water, drained and flaked
Yield: 2 servings
Step 1: Make the dressing
To make the dressing, combine the white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, onion powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking as you go. Set the dressing aside on the counter if you’re making the salad within the next hour or so. Otherwise, store the dressing in the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before using.
Editor’s Tip: Homemade salad dressings are good for up to two weeks in the fridge, so feel free to make it in advance. The oil and vinegar will separate, so rewhisk the mixture or give it a firm shake to reincorporate the ingredients.
Step 2: Cook the veggies
The easiest way to cook the vegetables for this dish is on the stovetop. For the potatoes, place the whole red potatoes in a small saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring the water to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and discard the cooking water and let the potatoes cool before cutting them into quarters.
For the green beans, blanching is best. Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the green beans and cook for about 3 minutes, until they’re tender-crisp. Remove the beans to a bowl of ice water to cool them down.
Editor’s Tip: This part can be done in advance to make prep easier! Store the cooked potatoes and green beans in the refrigerator for up to two days before assembling the salad.
Step 3: Assemble the salad
With all the components prepared, this step will be easy. Divide the lettuce between two salad bowls. Top each plate with half of the potatoes, beans, tomatoes, olives, hard-boiled eggs and tuna. Drizzle the salads with dressing and serve any extra dressing on the side.
What Toppings Can You Add to a Nicoise Salad?
While certain toppings are traditional, we like to think of the Nicoise salad as a blank canvas. Start by using the classic components as a base. Then, feel free to think outside the box and swap out a few ingredients.
- Instead of canned tuna, try using seared, oil-poached or grilled tuna instead. You can absolutely use another type of fish, too. We love salmon Nicoise almost as much as the original!
- If you want to really switch things up, swap-in grilled chicken breasts or steak, or make it vegetarian by using beans or tofu as a plant-based protein.
- Leftover roasted vegetables like beets, sweet potatoes or carrots work well, or you could toss market-fresh vegetables on the grill, like asparagus, sweet corn or zucchini.
- Don’t be afraid to add raw vegetables, either, like cucumbers or thinly sliced radishes for extra crunch.
- If you don’t have Bibb lettuce on hand, don’t worry! You can use any variety of lettuce, or you can make Nicoise salad with sliced tomatoes or asparagus as the base instead.
- If you like briny, pickled flavors, add capers, marinated artichoke hearts, different types of olives, pepperoncini, chopped pickles or anchovy filets (if you dare).
How Long Will the Salad Last?
If you have leftover dressed salad, we’re sorry to tell you that you’re out of luck. The acid in the salad dressing wilts the tender lettuce, making it an unappetizing, soggy mess. To avoid waste, only dress however much salad you plan to eat in one sitting.
As for the salad components, you can totally prep this salad in advance and dress it when you’re ready to eat. It’s best to dry the lettuce so it doesn’t get slimy. You can meal prep by topping the lettuce with the remaining ingredients. Store the undressed salads in an airtight container for up to five days in the refrigerator.