There was no hope for brevity in titling this recipe—a salad can be made a thousand ways, and rarely is one transcendent or ubiquitous enough to merit its own name. Cobb salad is one; salad Niçoise—the grandfather of composed salads—another. This recipe didn’t land far from either of those trees, an elegant take from Tamasin Day-Lewis’s Good Tempered Food. "Composed" salads, as opposed to the “simple” or tossed variety with lots of leaves (which is what I’m used to calling a salad) are composed of carefully chosen ingredients—usually what’s in season—and are arranged elegantly for everyone to dig in to the varying flavors, textures, and layers. There’s usually a protein around, which makes them filling enough for a low-key light dinner.
Homemade mayonnaise can be made quickly in a food processor, or with a little arm muscle, in a mixing bowl. And there’s really no reason not to make it from scratch while waiting for the beans to cook through (and do let them cook through—as Day-Lewis says, there’s no reason for beans to be al dente). You could vary the herbs: Parsley is good for an overall herby flavor, but use it as a launching pad by adding chives or basil. The sharpness of chives would help counteract the overall richness of egg yolk and avocado, while the basil is a bit sweeter and mellow. Either way, this is absolute comfort food, especially if the potatoes and eggs are just barely warm.
- For the salad:
- 2 handfuls green beans
- 3/4 pound small red or tiny new potatoes
- 1 avocado, peeled and sliced
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup leftover chicken (or 1/2 pound chicken breast, oiled and broiled in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes per side), shredded with a fork
- 1 cup mixed greens (optional)
- For the mayonnaise
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- About one cup oil, half sunflower half olive
- 1/2 cup herbs, mostly parsley
Bring a stockpot and saucepan (or other egg-boiling pot) full of salty water to a boil. Add the potatoes, whole, and cook until nearing fork-tenderness. Add the green beans and cook until just soft and the potatoes are also soft, but not mushy. Shock the green beans under cold water to arrest the cooking.
In the meantime, pierce the broad side of each egg with a pin to allow air to release, and lower them into boiling water very gently. Cook 12 minutes for barely-hard yolks, 15 for fully hard-boiled. If necessary, broil the chicken breast with a little salt and olive oil.
While everything is cooking, make the mayonnaise. In a food processor or blender, add the yolk, lemon juice, salt, and 1/4 cup oil. Turn it on and add the rest of the oil in a thin stream, and blend in the herbs. Alternatively, whisk the non-oil ingredients (including herbs) with a couple tablespoons of sunflower oil to create a good emulsion, then add the rest of the oil very slowly, whisking briskly, until the oil is incorporated and the texture is right.
Peel and slice the egg in half, then those into thirds. Cut the potatoes into reasonable chunks. Both the egg and potato should have just a hint of warmth. Put everything on top of the mixed greens, if using, into a large, shallow bowl or dish, pour the mayonnaise over, and toss gently. Finish with lots of black pepper.