When I was working on my cookbook last year (PS I’m still working on it hehe), I had this loose concept of a vegan niçoise-inspired salad that I wanted to lock down. In the mix of all the other recipes and some seriously failed attempts, I never really settled on an execution that I was happy with. When I tried to explain it to Mark for some feedback (he loves the more traditional version), he was kinda baffled, saying “…But no fish or eggs?? Then it’s just a salad.” SIGH.
But what about that fish and those eggs? I didn’t know how to approach either of the typical protein components in a plant-based makeover of the salad. Any re-imagining of the eggs was out, no question. At first, I thought about making some sort of chickpea patty flavoured with nori seaweed, lemon, and capers. I knew that this option would be tasty, but honestly? It felt a little too on-the-nose for me.
I was eating some (totally imported) asparagus with dinner one night recently and thought “Why can’t I just do that niçoise with a ton of vegetables and some French lentils for protein? They’re French!” Clearly the past failures of this salad were haunting me. I have a few personal recipe development-type projects like this that just drift in and out. They tend to show up in unexpected ways, too. I was watching BoJack Horseman and riding my exercise bike the other morning when a formula for vegan ice cream hit me way too hard. So random. Anyway, some of these recipes remain elusive, but this salad is all the way there for me now (and hopefully that ice cream will be soon).
I probably should have called this “niçoise-style/inspired” salad or something, but when it comes to the food/drink authenticity debate, I always choose what’s delicious over what’s historically/super technically accurate (which can be difficult and sometimes controversial to nail down with food anyway). This salad is in the loving spirit of niçoise and I’m quite fine with that. Mark and I shared the majority of this for dinner the other night after an unseasonably warm weekend. The colour-blocked sections on the platter made me smile, and I could definitely smother almost anything with the caper shallot dressing. The lentils lend a good bit of chewy satiation to this salad. I’ve been happily eating these ones from GRAIN for the past couple weeks. Raising my (kombucha-filled) glass to even more of those warmer days ahead :)
GRILLED ASPARAGUS + FRENCH LENTIL NIÇOISE SALAD RECIPE
Print the recipe here!
NOTES: Roasting the asparagus is definitely an option if you don’t have access to a grill. There are 3 boiled components in this salad (lentils, potatoes, and green beans). I cooked each one separately, drained it, and then started on the next one. Of course if you’re on the ball and have 3 decently sized pots, you could have them all going at the same time. Also, I like to make a triple batch of the caper shallot dressing to have around for other random salads and bowls throughout the week. Just a little hot tip :)
CAPER SHALLOT DRESSING INGREDIENTS:
1 small shallot, finely minced (roughly 2 tablespoons of minced shallot)
1 tablespoon capers, minced
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
sea salt + ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup French lentils, rinsed
1/2 lb mini potatoes
1/3 pound green beans, stems removed
1 1/2 lbs asparagus, woody ends trimmed
sea salt + ground black pepper
1/4 cup pitted black olives, cut in half
4-5 radishes, cut into wedges
1 tablespoon minced chives
Make the caper shallot dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the minced shallot, caper, dijon mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Keep whisking the mixture while you slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Once the mixture is thoroughly combined, check it for seasoning and set aside.
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the lentils to the water and a fat pinch of salt. Simmer the lentils until just tender, but still quite chewy, about 20 minutes. Drain the lentils and transfer them to a medium bowl. Toss the lentils with 2 tablespoons of the caper shallot dressing. Set aside.
Place the mini potatoes in the saucepan and cover them with an inch or two of cold water. Bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer the potatoes, uncovered, until tender when pierced with a knife, about 15-20 minutes. Drain the potatoes. As soon as you can handle them, cut the potatoes into quarters. Transfer cut potatoes to a medium bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the caper shallot dressing. Set aside.
Fill the saucepan with water one more time and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the green beans to the water with a pinch of salt. Simmer the green beans, uncovered, until they’re crisp-tender, about 4-5 minutes. Drain the green beans and rinse with very cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
Heat your grill to high. Toss the asparagus in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place the asparagus on the grill. Cook until asparagus is crisp-tender and lightly charred, about 5 minutes. Remember to flip asparagus over at the halfway point.
Transfer grilled asparagus to a serving platter. In sections, top the asparagus with the lentils, potatoes, green beans, olives, and radishes. Drizzle the remaining caper shallot dressing over the salad, and garnish with the chives. Serve immediately.