Loaded Salmon Nicoise Salad

Salmon Nicoise salad may be my favorite salad ever. And that's saying a lot because I eat a lot of salads (check some of them out here, here, and here). But in order for a Nicoise salad to be worthy of this fame, it has to be loaded. Like in I-can't-fit-anymore-on-this-plate loaded (just look at these pictures!). For me, the fun and flavor of Nicoise salads comes from its toppings. Lots of toppings. My personal favorites are roasted potatoes, dilly bean, cornichons (aka gherkins), hard-boiled eggs, olives, feta, avocado, and of course, wild salmon. You can really let your creativity shine when it comes to toppings, though. Fresh or canned tuna is traditional, I think, but any other protein would work just as well and don't limit yourself on the veggie opportunities. Great creative!

Speaking of creativity, I've been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's new book - Big Magic - on tape and loving it. It's about finding and embracing your creativity (whatever that means to you) and living life to the fullest. It's not cliche, I promise. I have always thought of myself as an adventurous person willing to take measured risks and not one to really go along with the crowd or bow down to authority. After college I bought a one-way ticket to Maui, lived there for a few months, and then traveled the world for six years while working on a small cruise ship. I definitely haven't walked the typical path. But over the last few years, I feel life has been a become a bit boring and monotonous. Grad school will do that to you. Don't get me wrong, though, I love what I'm doing for work and I couldn't ask for a better partner, but I also feel like the adventurous side has taken a bit of a backseat. Noah and I talk about it all the time and we have some plans in the works for breaking out of this rut that I'm super excited about (more to come soon, hopefully!). But if you're like me, and need some inspiration to help you take hold of your creativity again, I highly recommend checking out Big Magic.     

Ok, that was a tangent, back to the salad. I really don't feel like I need to say much more about this salad other than it's crazy good and incredibly filling and satisfying. Please do use wild salmon if you can to help support the fishermen. Friends don't let friends eat farmed salmon. That's it. Enjoy! 

// Salmon Nicoise Salad // makes 4 large or 6 small salads
You can either plate these salads on individual plates or make one huge platter to share. If you're sharing just be sure your guest don't steal all the goodies. Also, as I mentioned above, the toppings are totally customizable. Pickled and roasted veggies work great. I've also done goat cheese and herb-marinated feta.  

For the potatoes:
1 pound baby potatoes, any kind will do
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the salad dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced red onion or shallot
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the fish:
2 lbs salmon fillets, bones removed
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Oil for the pan

For the lemon, butter, caper sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup capers
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of salt

Salad and Toppings:
2 heads red bibb lettuce, washed and torn into pieces
4 hardboiled eggs, peeled and cut in half
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onions
1 avocado cut into slices or formed into roses
1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup cornichons
8 tomato wedges or 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup mixed olives
24 dilly beans
Lemon wedges
Parsley for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350°. If using larger baby potatoes, cut in half. If using smaller ones, leave whole. Toss potatoes will olive oil, garlic, and salt and place in a baking dish. Cover with tin foil and bake for 35-40 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife. Set aside until needed

2. While the potatoes are cooking, whisk together the salad dressing ingredients. Set aside until needed. Prep toppings as needed until potatoes are done

3. Reduce oven heat to 250°. Place salmon filets on a lightly oiled baking sheet and season evenly with salt. Cover loosely with tin foil and bake for ~40 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 135-140°. Remove from oven and let cool slightly

4. When fish is almost done, melt butter in a saucepan. Whisk in lemon juice, capers, and salt. Remove from heat

5. To assemble salad, divide lettuce among number of plates you're using. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of dressing over lettuce. Top salads evenly with potatoes, eggs, red onions, avocado, feta, cornichons, tomatoes, olives, and dilly beans (I like to make small piles of each ingredient). Place salmon on top and spoon 1 tablespoon lemon, butter, dill sauce over fish. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley. Dig in!