My take on vegan Nicoise salad has baby potatoes, green beans, seared tofu instead of tuna, and a caper-shallot dressing. It’s summer in France, in a bowl.
There are so many theories and opinions on what belongs in a “traditional” Salade Niçoise and what doesn’t. According to David Lebovitz – who has written extensively on the topic and whom I trust blindly with all matters French – the classic ingredients of Nicoise are raw vegetables, either anchovies or canned tuna (not both), hard-boiled eggs, and olive oil.
But as these things go, a lot has happened since the late 19th century, when the salad first became a thing. In the last hundred-plus years, cooked vegetables (namely boiled potatoes and green beans), grilled [not canned] tuna, and a vinaigrette dressing have all made their way into this southern French staple.
The nicoise I personally fell in love with was from a local Brooklyn restaurant. It had all kinds of “inauthentic” ingredients, including snow peas, pickled cauliflower, and corn. I loved the mish-mash of different textures and flavors, all brought together by a tangy vinaigrette. And then there was the first vegan version I tried while shooting Lisa Dawn Angerame’s book Wait, That’s Vegan?!. Hers had tofu instead of tuna and it really hit the spot.
My vegan nicoise salad – which is not at all traditional – is quite similar to Lisa’s and what, to me, feels like summer in a bowl. It’s got just enough heft to feel like a complete meal and not a side, but since most of the ingredients are at room temp, it’s light enough to enjoy even on the hottest of summer nights.
What Is Nicoise Salad
“Niçoise” (pronounced knee-swaz, btw) means “of Nice” in French. It’s a classic dish from this coastal French city designed to showcase the region’s local ingredients: tomatoes, fresh greens, and seafood. Traditionally, it’s a cold, light salad, meant to be enjoyed on a hot summer day. Think après-beach vibes with Mediterranean views.
What’s In This Vegan Version
My version of nicoise has three cooked elements: boiled baby potatoes and green beans, and seared tofu. The rest of the salad is rounded out with cherry tomatoes, olives, jarred roasted red peppers, and a caper-shallot vinaigrette. The tofu replaces the protein element of tuna and hard-boiled eggs, while the capers lend the salty bite traditionally provided by anchovies.
Ingredient Notes + Substitutions
- Potatoes: If all you have are regular-size potatoes (not baby ones), cut them into 1-inch chunks first, then cook the same way as instructed below.
- Tofu: If you’re avoiding soy, replace the seared tofu with crispy chickpeas or marinated white beans.
- Jarred Peppers: If you have marinated artichokes or hearts of palm, you can use them as a sub.
- Olives: I love the rich flavor of calamata, but you can use any pitted olives you have. For the freshest olives, look for them in the cold buffet or refrigerated section of your supermarket. Avoid the canned variety if possible.
- Capers: replace the saltiness of anchovies. Don’t skip them!
- Shallot: If you don’t have one, sub with finely diced red onion.
- Other veggies… Apart from raw tomatoes, feel free to toss in some cucumbers, bell peppers, fresh snap peas, and/or thinly sliced radishes.
How to Make Vegan Nicoise Salad
Cook the Tofu: Start by pressing your tofu (instructions in the recipe card below) to eliminate excess moisture and help you achieve the crispiest results. Then cut into slabs, season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and cook until brown on both sides. For the crispiest edges, use a generous amount of oil and resist the urge to move/flip the tofu until it’s 100% ready. Drain cooked tofu on paper towels to remove excess oil. Then slice into strips.
Cook the Potatoes: Put the potatoes in a pot, and add salt and water. Cover with a lid, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently until tender (~12 minutes); watch them carefully at the end – you don’t want them to overcook.
Cook the Green Beans: When the potatoes are almost done, add the green beans to the pot. Cook just until they’re bright green, about 4 minutes, then immediately pull them out with tongs into a colander and run under cold water. The cooked beans should be crunchy, not limp.
(I like to cook these in the same pot to avoid dirtying extra dishes. It’s easy because the string beans float on the top anyway, while the potatoes stay at the bottom. If you don’t like this method, cook the beans in a separate pot of salted boiling water instead.)
Make the Dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, mustard, salt, and pepper. Then stir in the capers and shallots.
Assemble the Salad: Divide the ingredients among 4 bowls and drizzle with dressing. Alternatively, arrange everything on a large platter and serve family-style.
This vegetarian nicoise can be prepped in advance. The tofu, potatoes, and green beans can all be cooked, cooled, and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. (You can warm them up before eating or just eat ‘em cold!) The dressing can also be made in advance and kept for up to 10 days in the fridge. Refrain from cutting up any raw vegetables (like tomatoes) too long in advance; they will lose their flavor.
More summer favorites…
Let me know if you try this recipe! Give it a rating below and leave a comment, and don’t forget to tag @thenewbaguette on Instagram with your creation.Print
Nicoise salad is summer in France, in a bowl.
For the Salad:
- One 14-ounce block extra firm tofu* (see note below)
- 1 1/2 pounds baby potatoes, cleaned thoroughly*
- About 12 ounces green beans, trimmed
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- About 2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil, like avocado, refined coconut, or organic canola
- 10 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 large roasted red peppers from a jar, drained well and sliced
- 1 cup pitted calamata olives, halved
For the Dressing:
- 3 tablespoons mild vinegar, like apple cider, wine, or champagne (or lemon juice)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons drained capers
- 1 small or 1/2 large shallot, finely diced*
- Press tofu. Drain tofu and place on a plate, then top with another plate or cutting board and weigh it down with something heavy (like a couple of cans), to squeeze out as much water as possible. Let stand for about 15 minutes, periodically draining off the excess water. (Or use a tofu press.)
- Cook potatoes. If your potatoes are small, leave them whole; if they’re bigger, cut into 1-inch chunks. Place in a pot, add enough water to cover by about 2 inches, plus a heaping teaspoon of salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer until they can be pierced with a fork, 12 to 15 minutes, being careful not to overcook them.
- Cook green beans. When the potatoes are almost done, add the green beans to the pot and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, just until they’re bright green. (Don’t overcook – you don’t want them to be limp.) Using tongs, quickly transfer the beans to a colander and immediately run under cold water to stop the cooking process. (Alternatively, cook the beans in a separate pot of salted boiling water.)
- Drain the potatoes and return to the pot. Let stand until they stop steaming.
- Meanwhile, cook tofu. While the veg are happening, start the tofu. Slice the pressed block into 8 slabs and lay them in a single layer on the cutting board. Sprinkle the top-facing side with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
- Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and add enough oil to cover the bottom. Add tofu in a single layer seasoned-side down, then season the top-facing side. Cook until a golden crust forms on the bottom, about 8 minutes, then flip and brown the other side; do not flip/move the tofu unless absolutely necessary.
- Transfer tofu to a paper towel-lined plate. When cool enough to handle, slice crosswise.
- Make dressing. In a bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons each vinegar and oil, 1 tablespoon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and lots of pepper. Then stir in 2 tablespoons capers and the chopped shallot.
- Serve salad. To serve, divide the potatoes, green beans, tofu, tomatoes, olives, and peppers among bowls, then drizzle with dressing. Alternately, arrange everything on a large platter and serve family-style.
- Serving Size: 1/4 of the recipe
- Calories: 385
- Fat: 22.1 g
- Carbohydrates: 39.3 g
- Fiber: 9.8 g
- Protein: 13.4 g
Keywords: vegan, nicoise, salad, french, tofu