Southern Nicoise Salad

My grandmother made, hands down, the best salmon cakes. They were shatteringly crisp on the outside and firm but still moist on the inside. She served them for breakfast alongside eggs and grits. My mother was also a salmon cake master. If I’m feeling nostalgic the pull to a salmon cake is undeniable. Of all the foods that are always in my house there will always be a can of salmon. Now some may make salmon cakes from fresh salmon and I bid you God speed with that but where I come from salmon cakes come from salmon straight from a can. If it was good enough for Grandma, well, who am I to tinker with tradition.

But, I’m not so wedded to tradition that the notion of eating a salmon cake with anything but grits will send me into a tizzy. I love crossing cultures with food so though my palate was calling for salmon, it was also calling for salad. My trip to the Durham Farmer’s Market yesterday gave me all I needed to make a Southern Salad Nicoise.

Like the Provencal version, my salad has green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and greens though the greens are optional. Instead of tuna though I opted for salmon cakes and tossed everything together in the vinaigrette rather than simply pouring over. The result: crispy, crunchy, tangy, light and delicious. This salad and a glass of wine makes for a great summer meal. Make extra vinaigrette. It’s great poured over grilled vegetables or used as a marinade for chicken.

Southern Nicoise Salad

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
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Salmon Cakes
1 15 oz. can salmon
1 green onion chopped, both green and white parts
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
6 saltines, fresh or stale it doesn’t matter
Dash of salt and pepper
cooking oil for shallow frying

1. Drain the can of salmon and place into a large bowl. Removing the bones is optional. If you choose to remove the bones usually there’s just one long bone through the middle of the fish.
2. Add in all ingredients except the crackers.
3. Crumble the crackers in your hands and add to the bowl. You don’t want a fine crumb so big pieces are fine.
4. Stir the mixture until everything is combined or go old school and just get in there with your hands. Form into 4-6 patties. This just depends on how large you’d like them. They should be about 1/2 inch thick.
5. In a large pan, heat about 4 tablespoons of oil or as much as is needed to have about 1/4 inch of oil in your pan. Once the oil has begun to shimmer reduce the heat.
6. Add the patties being careful not to crowd otherwise turning will be an ordeal. Cook for 5 minutes until deep brown.
7. Turn and cook for 4-5 more minutes on the other side. The patties are done when the sides look firm.
8. Drain on paper towels.

While the salmon patties cook, make the salad.

The Salad

6 oz of arugula or arugula blend
8 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
5 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 Tbs olive oil
pinch of salt & pepper
10 creamer potatoes, the smallest you can find or 3 new potatoes quartered
10 French green beans, stem ends removed

1. Put on a pot of heavily salted water to boil.
2. Remove the stem ends of the green beans.
3. Place the cherry tomatoes into a bowl and add the basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir and set aside.
4. Once the water boils, add the potatoes and green beans and boil for 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Remove the green beans and immediately rinse under cold water.
5. Test the potatoes to see if they’re done, if not give them a minute more, then remove from the water.
6. Add the drained green beans and potatoes to the tomatoes and stir to combine.

Click here for the recipe for Dijon Vinaigrette

To Serve: Toss the salad greens in the bowl along with the tomatoes, potatoes and green beans. Pour in all the dressing and toss to coat. Plate the greens and top with a salmon cake.

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