Paris Subway Entrance

Salade Niçoise, and you’re never too old to learn a foreign language

While visiting Paris for the first time in 2008, I fell in love. It was actually love at first sight! Salade Niçoise (pronounced knee-SWAHZ) won my heart. It’s essentially a French composed salad, much like our American Cobb salad, but with tuna, green beans, and potatoes, instead of chicken, bacon, and avocado. Salade Niçoise hails from Nice, on the Mediterranean Sea. I’ve yet to find a restaurant that serves it here at home. After some recipe book searching, I found this recipe that is easy to make and brings me back to Paris with every bite. In the summer, I make this salad frequently, especially when fresh herbs and green beans from the garden are abundant.

Salade Nicoise
Salade Nicoise

Salade Niçoise




1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 Tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano leave
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper

2-3 cans of solid white Albacore tuna
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and either halved or quartered
10 small new red potatoes (each about 2 inches in diameter, about 1 1/4 pounds total), each potato scrubbed and quartered
2 medium heads Boston lettuce or butter lettuce, leaves washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces
3 small ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into eighths
1 small red onion, sliced very thin
8 ounces green beans, stem ends trimmed and each bean halved crosswise
1/4 cup Niçoise olives or pitted kalamata olives
2 Tbsp capers, rinsed and/or several anchovies (optional)


  1. Whisk lemon juice, oil, shallot, thyme, basil, oregano, and mustard in medium bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
  2. Bring potatoes and 4 quarts cold water to boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and cook until potatoes are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer potatoes to a medium bowl with a slotted spoon (do not discard boiling water). Toss warm potatoes with 1/4 cup vinaigrette; set aside.
  3. While potatoes are cooking, toss lettuce with 1/4 cup vinaigrette in large bowl until coated. Arrange bed of lettuce on a serving platter (I use individual serving plates, shown in photo). Mound tuna in center of lettuce, coat with vinaigrette. Toss tomatoes, red onion, 3 tablespoons vinaigrette, and salt and pepper to taste in bowl; arrange tomato-onion mixture on the lettuce bed. Arrange reserved potatoes in a mound at edge of lettuce bed.
  4. Return water to boil; add 1 tablespoon salt and green beans. Cook until tender but crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain beans, transfer to reserved ice water, and let stand until just cool, about 30 seconds; dry beans well. Toss beans, 3 tablespoons vinaigrette, and salt and pepper to taste; arrange in a mound at edge of lettuce bed.
  5. Arrange hard boiled eggs, olives, and anchovies (if using) in mounds on the lettuce bed. Drizzle eggs with remaining 2 tablespoons dressing, sprinkle entire salad with capers (if using), and serve immediately.

Serves 6.

My goal on this trip to Paris (besides food) was not to shop or go to museums but to simply walk along the boulevards taking in the atmosphere and watching people, which I love to do almost as much as I love to eat Salade Niçoise.

My chance came on a very rainy morning. First order of duty was to head out find coffee since the hotel didn’t offer any. Just down the street I stepped into a lovely corner cafe and quickly headed to the counter. An older woman asked, in French, what I wanted. I blurted out “large coffee with cream, please.” She looked at me and shrugged. She didn’t have a clue what I said. I was perplexed that she couldn’t understand and seemed irritated with me. In all my travels to foreign countries I had always gotten away with not knowing how to order a cup of coffee in the native language. Usually, someone knew English or I’d end up resorting to gestures or just pointing at things. Until this particular caffeine-deprived moment my ways of circumventing my ignorance of the local language had always worked.

Wandering around Paris

Sitting at the counter wondering what to do, I was rescued by an expatriate, and he kindly placed my order. I paid and quickly left with my coffee in one hand, umbrella in the other. When I travel, I try to blend in as much as possible. I felt foolish for sticking out and not making an effort to learn basic French phrases, especially when it comes to the life or death matter of getting that first cup of coffee in the morning.

I wondered later if she spoke English but was just messing the “the stupid American.”  After that incident, I swore I’d learn some French. It wasn’t until then that I realized how much I had relied on my multilingual husband who, unfortunately, was at business meetings all day.

In the end, my day ended up being great even though it rained like cats and dogs. Once suitably caffeinated I was happy. I spent the entire day wandering aimlessly around Paris. Life was good.

But I learned my lesson. Since that trip I’ve been studying french using the Fluenz method. I thought I was too old to learn a foreign language but I’ve been amazed how easy it’s been to speak, write and read French. If I can do it, anyone can (ironically, for some reason though, I have trouble correctly pronouncing “Salade Niçoise”).

If I’m lucky enough to go to France again I’ll be ready to order that cup of coffee by myself.

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