I posted a version of these photographs over on Instagram (look me up!) with the caption "trying to get my mojo back."
And it's true—while I could tell tall tales of action-packed holidays and busy work schedules and many too many meals out, the simple fact is that some time in November my wonderful sister and brother-in-law gave me a session with a house cleaner for my birthday, which led me to put my photo lights in the closet and ... well, that's pretty much all it takes to leave me thoroughly distracted.
So how have I fed myself the past couple of months? Mostly with spoonfuls of cottage cheese straight from the container for breakfast, brick-sized turkey sandwiches grabbed out of deli cases for lunch, and convenience foods for dinner. I dabbled in the kitchen here and there, but my efforts felt for the most part clumsy and disappointing and unsatisfying.
And you know what? It started to really get me down. Granted, I know about the extent to which our heads are in the game when it comes to food more than most, but I realized I was feeling listless and off track. Putting mystery meat, other assorted blech, and much of the world's supply of potatoes into my body day after day was affecting my waistline and my psyche.
I knew that if I wanted to regain my footing, I was going to need an absolute bolt out of the blue.
And here she be:
Beautiful. Fresh. Colorful. "Taste the rainbow" doesn't have to mean Skittles, friends. These are all healthy, unadulterated ingredients, but they're also delicious and indulgent.
For this little jump start, I went to the fancy market and bought all organic ingredients. That's truly not necessary—I find I can't afford to eat that way all the time, in funds or in time—but it went a long way toward making this meal feel like a treat I was giving myself. In all, I spent about $35 on everything you see here (with potatoes and tomatoes and eggs and olives and onion and greens left over), and got four good-size portions out of the deal. That's better bang for your buck than I generally get from eating out.
In the end, this is a salad. Some people just can't get all that excited about a salad, and I totally understand that. Sometimes I am some people, too. But the beauty of this salad is that there are so many components that each bite can taste a little bit different than the last, which makes your taste buds ever so happy. Especially if you save the olives for last.
There are a few tips to making this work as a quick meal, as opposed to feeling like you're making seven different dishes:
1. Cook the potatoes first. Blanch the green beans during the last few minutes of the potato cooking time.
2. Slice the onion, halve the tomatoes, trim the beans, and make the dressing while the potatoes cook. Also set your eggs out on the counter to come to room temperature.
3. Once the green beans and potatoes come out of the boiling water, add the eggs—fewer pots to wash!
4. Grill the tuna first, and slice the cooked potatoes in half; then add the potatoes, cut-side down, to the grill to pick up a little of that charred flavor (OK and maybe also so they'll look pretty.)
5. Set aside some dressing, and toss the warm potatoes in it the minute they come off the grill. FYI this does nothing to make the process easier or more efficient, it's just delicious.
6. Remember to have some ice on hand if at all possible for shocking the eggs. This makes the water cold-cold, so that egg whites gasp in horror and shrink from the shells, which makes peeling ever so much easier. I did not have ice, and ... well, you'll see there are three eggs here instead of four. (RIP fourth egg.)
Tuna Salad Niçoise
8 fingerling potatoes
10 ounces haricots vert or fresh green beans
½ 10-ounce package mixed baby lettuces
8 ounces grape tomatoes, halved
¼ large red onion, thinly sliced
16 pitted kalamata or niçoise olives
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced and divided
1 (8-ounce) tuna steak
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1. Cook potatoes in boiling water to cover 15 minutes or until just tender. Add haricots vert to boiling water during last 3 minutes of cooking time. Remove haricots vert and potatoes from boiling water with tongs; place haricots vert in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise. Set aside.
2. Whisk together mustard, vinegar, 2 tablespoons oil, and 1 garlic clove in a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. Season tuna on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat grill pan over medium-high heat, and brush lightly with olive oil. Cook tuna 3 minutes on one side; turn, and cook 1 to 2 minutes (for rare) or until desired degree of doneness. Set aside.
4. Place potatoes, cut sides down, on grill pan; cook 3 to 5 minutes or until potatoes are well marked. Remove to a bowl, and toss with about 2 tablespoons reserved dressing. Set aside.
5. Add eggs to boiling water; cook exactly 6 minutes, and remove to a bowl of ice water.
6. Heat remaining 1 garlic clove in remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium heat about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add haricots vert, and toss until lightly heated through. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Cut tuna into thin slices. Carefully peel eggs, and gently cut in half crosswise.
7. Line a platter with baby lettuces; top with tomatoes, onion, olives, haricots vert, tuna, eggs, and potatoes. Serve with remaining dressing. Makes 4 servings.