I’ve been struggling hard with imposter syndrome lately – to quiet the voices in my head that scream what what I write and cook isn’t good enough, isn’t traditional enough, isn’t mine enough to justify publishing it here. If I’m honest, that’s why I don’t update very frequently, and why this very post has been sitting in my drafts folder for almost a week, waiting for edits.
Maybe that’s why I like this salad so much. It’s a bit of an imposter too. Like salad niçoise, this one has its fair share of summer’s bounty – ripe tomatoes, high-season green beans, olives and eggs. But unlike its restrained French cousin, this version swaps chicken for tuna and grills the vegetables into something loud, brash and infinitely more satisfying.
Boiled red potatoes become crispy grilled steak fries with shatteringly crisp edges and charred notes of smoke and caramel. The tomatoes are grilled with red wine vinegar until they slump into jammy pillows whose juicy insides could serve as a salad dressing on their own. The green beans are cooked in a perforated pouch until they’re crisp-tender and smoke-kissed. The chicken is cooked until it is just barely charred. With briny Kalamata olives, a few boiled eggs, and some tweaks to the dressing, you’ve got a summer salad that truly feels like a meal.
The best part? You never heat up your kitchen, and since everything goes on the grill the only things to wash are your cutting board and dressing bowl.
So yes, I guess this salad is perhaps aspiring to the name niçoise, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious or worthwhile.
Maybe I can take that as a lesson.
Imposter Salad Niçoise
Dressing adapted from Food Network Kitchen
For the salad
4 medium red potatoes, cut into 1/4 inch wedges
1/2 lb green beans, ends and strings removed
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
1 t red wine vinegar
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1 small head romaine lettuce, cut into 1 inch strips
For the dressing
1/2 shallot, minced
1/4 c red wine vinegar
2 T grainy brown or spicy brown mustard
1 T thyme leaves, minced
salt and pepper
1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste (I like my vinaigrettes VERY vinegar-y, so if you don’t, just add more oil. The original recipe recommends 3/4 c)
Dump a generous amount of charcoal into your grill (my pile went up almost to the top grate) and get that lit so it’s ready by the time you need it. Alternatively, preheat your gas grill on whatever setting you normally use to grill chicken.
Start the salad prep by making a little aluminum foil boat large enough to hold the tomatoes. Toss in the tomatoes, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and a bit of oil, and roll everything around to coat. Set aside.
Put the green beans on a sheet of heavy-duty foil, and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Fold the foil into a pouch around the beans and poke both sides full of holes with either a fork or a paring knife. Set that aside too.
Toss the potato wedges with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and salt the chicken.
Once your grill is ready, spread the coals into a relatively even layer across the entire bottom surface of your grill. Put your two pouches of veggies off to the side, your chicken in the middle and your potatoes in a single layer around the remaining edge. You should find the hot and cooler spots quickly, so keep the potatoes moving so they don’t burn (a little burning is ok. Charcoal is not). The potatoes may not all finish cooking at once, so keep a bowl handy to pull off the ones that are nicely browned and give slightly when squeezed with tongs. Try not to eat all of these. It will be very tempting.
Shake and flip the bean pouch occasionally and make sure you stir the tomatoes every so often. Let them cook until the beans are crisp-tender and the tomatoes are just starting to burst and slump – with where they were on my grill with my charcoal on this particular day, that took about 15-20 minutes, but you should keep an eye on yours and check on them occasionally.
The chicken should be cooked through after 6-8 minutes on each side. You’re looking for an internal temperature of about 160 °F. It should gain the additional five degrees in carryover heat during the rest.
Bring everything inside and tent the chicken with foil and let it rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting it.
While the chicken is resting, whisk together the shallot, red wine vinegar, mustard, thyme and salt and pepper. Then, slowly whisk in the oil – you’re looking to form an emulsion, and dumping all the oil in at once will make that much harder. Also, tip: move your whisk back and forth in a straight line, rather than in circular motions. This creates more shear forces under the surface and means your emulsion will form more quickly and hold longer.
Slice the chicken however seems best to you and arrange everything on a platter. Drizzle with the dressing and serve either warm or at room temperature.