This resplendent summer salad is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the taste buds. It comes together within 30-35 minutes and makes a great light meal on its own. The best feature is that it offers a delicious way of having four servings of vegetables in one shot.
I had this variation of the traditional French salad in Austria a few years ago, though at the time I wasn’t aware of its lineage. Traditionally, the salad is served with boiled eggs or fish. But the chef was very kind to replace eggs/fish with really delicious wheat and lentil balls. Taking inspiration from there, I have added lentils as the base in this salad.
Niçoise salad (vegan)–easy and delicious way to load up on veggies
Adding recipes like this Niçoise salad to your meals makes it super easy to eat vegetables–one of the best sources of minerals/vitamins that offer various health benefits including energy. Moreover, in restaurants a big salad like this can cost somewhere $10-$18. You can totally make this salad for a fraction of that cost at home.
Step 1: prepare the lentils
This salad uses brown lentils. You can cook the lentils at home (as done in this recipe) or use canned. It’s totally ok to use easy replacements–canned chickpeas or canned white bean. When using canned beans, just rinse and drain to remove the excess salt and metallic taste. However, it’s much cleaner and cheaper to prepare beans/lentils at home.
To prepare the lentils, soak overnight or for at least six hours (time= ~5 minutes). While the inactive soak time is long, the cook time is only 12-15 minutes on stovetop. Add crushed garlic to lentils and top with fresh basil to add flavor. If using canned, you can infuse flavors by warming beans/lentils either with crushed garlic or adding garlic powder.
Step 2: prepare the veggies
This salad uses a combination of fresh and cooked vegetables. It is best to use organic, especially potatoes–a crop that carries high amounts of pesticides. Here is the secret to buying cheaper organic vegetables: visit your local farmers market. I have noted a 20-50% difference in the price of organic vegetables at farmers markets compared to supermarkets. The best part is that you get to eat local and fresh veggies.While many recipes call for boiling the vegetables in Niçoise salad, this method of cooking veggies leaches nutrients in the boiling liquid. It works ok with soups where the liquid becomes part of the food. However, in boiling veggies and discarding the liquid it also removes nutrients that should ideally be on your plate. A veggie steamer is the answer to quickly cook veggies without losing too many nutrients. It is an essential part of my kitchen. My main reason for using it to save time on cooking veggies; nutrient saving comes as a side. I use this one, which gets used a LOT.
In this recipe, I have steamed the veggies–a method best for preventing nutrient loss in veggies (more on this later). To prepare green beans, just trim the ends. To prepare the potatoes, de-skin if the skin is tough and thinly slice. If you have baby potatoes or fingerling potatoes, they work even better.
To prepare the cherry tomatoes, be sure to remove the green part. If you don’t have cherry tomatoes at hand, substitute with regular tomatoes. I have used butter lettuce in this recipe, but you can use any other type.
Step 3: The garnish–dressing, olives, and basil
In Europe, salads are usually topped with balsamic reduction dressing. But in this one, I have used lemon dressing and given a quick option for balsamic dressing in the recipe notes section. Here is a quick trick to get more out of your dressing–toss all the veggies, fresh and steamed, with dressing before arranging it on a plate. This trick makes all the difference in adding more flavor to the salad compared to adding dressing just on the top.
Olives are often part of the traditional salad. I use canned/bottled olives not very frequently because they tend to be high in sodium. A quick trick is to rinse them before adding to the salad to remove some of the salt. If you are watching salt in your diet, feel free to omit the olives. Fresh basil makes a flavorful garnish. If you don’t have fresh basil at hand, add a tiny bit more of dried basil to the salad dressing.
Meal planning tips for Niçoise salad (vegan)
Plan to have this salad twice in a week to save time to cook an extra meal.
- Prepare the lentils (if cooking from fresh) for two or more times. These will last in your refrigerator for up to 5 days and in the freezer for 1 month. Although, the texture of frozen lentils is not that great. If using canned, add these to your grocery list.
- Prepare the steamed veggies in advance and use them within 3-4 days.
- Cut the fresh veggies just before preparing the whole salad.
Niçoise Salad (Vegan)
To make the lentils
- 1-1/3 cups brown lentils (soaked overnight or for at least 6 hours)
- 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste, no more than 3/4 tsp)
- 2 cups water
- 2 cloves garlic (finely minced)
For the salad
- 2 potatoes (medium, ~1-1/2 cups, washed, peeled, thinly sliced)
- 8 oz green beans (washed, ends trimmed)
- 8 oz cherry tomatoes (~1-1/2 cups, green part removed and halved, can sub with 3 regular tomatoes)
- 1 head butter lettuce (or any other type, ~4-5 cups)
- 12 Kalamata olives (or any other variety, rinsed in water, optional)
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
To make the dressing
- 4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (~1 large lemon, can sub with balsamic vinegar)
- 1 tbsp basil leaves (minced, or sub with 2 pinches of dried basil)
- 3 pinches pink Himalayan salt (or any other type)
- 2 pinches freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 tbsp fresh basil leaves (stems removed, washed and finely minced, optional)
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp date syrup (optional)
To make the lentils
- Add the soaked lentils to a colander and wash thoroughly under running water. Add the lentils, water, garlic, and salt to a heavy bottom pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat; then reduce the heat and simmer until lentils are soft but not mushy (~12 minutes). Once done, drain the extra liquid in a fine-mash sieve. While the lentils get cooked, get started on preparing the veggies.
To prepare the veggies
- Add water to a steamer and bring to a boil. While the water comes to a boil, wash and prepare all the veggies. Add the beans and sliced potatoes to the steamer and steam for until cooked through, but not oversoft (~7-8 minutes).
To prepare the dressing
- Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir with a whisk or fork.
Put the salad together
- Bring the cooked lentils and steamed veggies to room temperature. Toss the veggies and lettuce with the dressing. Arrange veggies both steamed and fresh on the four corners with lentils in the middle on individual bowls/plates or on a big serving platter. Top with minced basil and olives. Sprinkle the veggies with black pepper and top with the dressing. Enjoy!
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