The best summer salads are mere suggestions: Buy what looks good and fresh and calls to you at the market, cook it simply or not at all, season it well (combining it with pantry staples that lend pops of flavor) and eat up. A classic of the genre is the niçoise, which in its most traditional form allows for no cooked vegetables at all but has been widely interpreted (some would say bastardized) to include not only boiled potatoes and green beans but also such apparent travesties as seared fresh tuna instead of canned.
One of Sarah Copeland’s salad recipes in her lovely new cookbook evokes the cooking-from-the-market spirit, not the purism associated with the classic. Her combination — which she doesn’t call a niçoise, so don’t worry — depends on a trilogy of green beans, potatoes and hard-cooked eggs, dressed with vinegar and oil and punched up by green olives, capers and herbs.
The ingredients are easy to cook, but a little bit of care takes the salad to the next level. Steam the eggs so the whites aren’t rubbery and the yolks stay creamy. Check the potatoes often while they’re boiling so they yield to a fork but aren’t waterlogged and/or mushy. Boil the green beans just until they darken, and stop their cooking in an ice-water bath so they reach that perfect crisp-tenderness.
It’s all downhill from there: Dress the salad, arrange it on a platter, pour a glass of wine and eat outside. If you’re lucky, you might even feel a breeze.
Green Bean Salad With Potatoes, Capers and Eggs
Serves 3 to 4
8 ounces small potatoes, such as fingerlings or new potatoes
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
4 large eggs
4 ounces green beans, trimmed (may use yellow or purple wax beans, or a combination)
4 teaspoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ small red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup pitted plump green olives, such as Castelvetranos
1 tablespoon capers in brine, plus 1 teaspoon of their liquid
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves or fresh tarragon leaves, or a combination
Put the potatoes in a pot, add enough heavily salted water to cover, set the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Cook until just barely tender, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the potato. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a cutting board to cool, leaving the water in the pot.
While the potatoes are cooking, steam the eggs: Fill a bowl with cool water and ice cubes. Place the eggs in a steamer basket set over a few inches of boiling water; cover and cook for 11 to 12 minutes, depending on how thoroughly done you prefer the yolks. (If you have a double boiler/steamer setup that would allow enough space for the potatoes to boil while the eggs steam above them, feel free to cook them at the same time.)
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs directly to the ice-water bath for a few minutes. Remove one egg, tap its rounded edge on your countertop to crack the shell, peel off the shell from that end, then return it to the water. Repeat with the remaining eggs, and let them sit for a few minutes in the ice-water bath. (This helps water get under the shell for easier peeling.) Gently tap each egg all over on your countertop to crack the remaining shell, peel them, and rinse them in the ice-water bath. Leave the bowl near the stove. Cut each egg in half.
When the potatoes are ready, return the water in the pot to a boil and add the green beans. Cook until their color deepens, about 2 minutes, then scoop them into the ice-water bath to stop the cooking. Drain and pat them dry.
To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, the ½ teaspoon of salt and the pepper in a medium bowl until well blended. Taste, and add more salt, as needed.
Cut the cooked potatoes into quarters (if large) or halves (if small) and arrange them on a platter. Spoon about one-quarter of the dressing over them.
Toss the green beans, red onion, olives, capers and their brine, and the parsley and/or tarragon in a mixing bowl with the remaining dressing, then add them to the platter. Arrange the eggs on top, and season with a little more salt, as needed. Serve at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving (based on 4 servings) — calories: 270; total fat: 20 g; saturated fat: 4 g; cholesterol: 215 mg; sodium: 420 mg; carbohydrates: 16 g; dietary fiber: 3 g; sugars: 2 g; protein: 8 g.