This is not a salad for the faint of heart. This is a Serious Salad, one that requires a willingness to eat quite a bit of fish and vegetables in one sitting, all while allowing your mouth to be assaulted by several textures and flavors in every bite. When I first spotted this in The Barcelona Cookbook (shocking, I know) I was looking for a light dinner option to serve Michael’s family after our day of walking around the city and noshing at Katz’s, but it was ultimately never made because our lunch there was so late and no one had any appetite. So we saved it for the next day as a bit of an antidote to the indulgences from the beginning of the week, and much like the other dishes from the cookbook that called for tinned fish, this was extremely flavorful all the while not feeling too heavy.
The key to all of these dishes is getting high-quality canned fish that’s packed in olive oil–in your supermarket this may be in the canned fish section, but I’d also check out the international department in the Spanish and/or Italian sections too. Unlike many traditional tuna salads that call for bland, packed-in-water albacore that’s then drenched in mayonnaise to mask the fishiness (which is usually unsuccessful anyway), the flavor of the fish is celebrated here and the fat content comes from the avocado, the oil the fish is packed in and just a drizzle of homemade aioli. As a normally mayo-averse person myself, this substitution is a welcome change. The final product is also not nearly as “fishy” smelling as its mayo-heavy counterparts, either.
That said, it will fill you up–don’t serve much else with this save for a light soup (I like stracciatella) or a small loaf of bread. Trust me–you won’t feel deprived.
Spanish-Style Tuna Niçoise Salad
Serves 2 as a light dinner with leftovers, or 4
- 2 cans Italian or Spanish chunk light tuna in olive oil, drained
- 2 roasted red peppers, sliced thin
- 2 scallions, sliced thinly with both green and white parts
- Leaves only from 6 sprigs of parsley, done in a chiffonade
- 1 avocado, halved and diced
- Zest and juice from 1/2 lemon (or one lime, depending on what you have on hand)
- 4 cups baby arugula, washed, drained and well-dried
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped (optional)
- 4-6 Kalamata olives, roughly chopped (optional)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 homemade aioli (instructions below)
To make the aioli: in a food processor or blender, add one jumbo egg yolk and 1-2 cloves garlic; start to process/blend and drizzle olive oil into the container until everything combines and is smooth; set aside.
Add tuna to a mixing bowl and flake with a fork, and add peppers, scallions, parsley, eggs, avocado, lemon zest and juice to the bowl–if you can, try to let it sit for an hour in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld. Arrange on a platter that has been lined with the arugula, garnish with the olives and a drizzle of the aioli and serve.
Note: we served this family-style because it was easier, but if you’d like something a little more dignified, follow the original recipe’s serving instructions of using a 4-inch ring mold to form a pretty serving on separate plates that have been festooned with the arugula.