Thursday, April 10, 2014

French potato salad (with tuna) when you wonder what's in the kitchen to eat

I wrote this post well over 2 weeks ago. Yet I couldn't get myself to click "publish". It was easier to procrastinate with other, simpler entries. Why? It was a mess. It was too long, too personal, then too short, then too long again. I think I must have written half a dozen versions. I'm blaming it on being new at blogging, being too honest, having too much to say and not being a writer among a few other things. Add to that pics that weren't quite selling it and it felt like too much trouble. It's a tasty salad though and I did waste braincells on it (the writing, not the food). So no more fretting, I'm putting it out there with one of the things I do best when I procrastinate: doodling on photos! :)

So here it is. KACHUNK!

I don't know if it's a family trait or a European thing but my French mother said she functions the same way. We might feel secure with a full larder and great provisions but we seem to thrive in the kitchen when there is little to eat. I'm not talking about chewing on a carrot while assembling a cheese sandwich (as tasty as that would be when hungry). I'm talking about creating a simple, tasty recipe with just a few ingredients to feed a whole family. We've all done it with soup, salad, pasta or stew that can be stretched if needed. 4-5 generations ago, it was a matter of survival and I respect the women who had to put up with that pressure everyday to feed their loved ones. Many cultures developed a great respect for food after long hardships in their countries with limited food supply. Sadly, many struggle with this reality right now. I had a taste for it myself a long time ago as a very young parent. A Christmas basket ended up at my door. It was hard to swallow but I was grateful and I wish to never experience this again.

In my pampered life now it's more of a welcoming challenge. I force myself to focus on the goods and try to make them shine. I'm not always successful with the results and eventually someone has to run off to the store. Many times though, I'm proud to say, the outcome is pretty tasty! 2 weeks ago, I had a few moments like that. We were already due for a grocery but bad weather and sickness all around made us stay inside and rely on what we already had. I did well with the goods but one simple meal really stood out for Marc and I. That day we were beyond fried from dealing with sick kids. The fridge was pretty slim, the girls barely ate and by the time they were settled for the night, we just wanted to crash on the couch. It was too late to go to the store and we didn't want to order. What to do? What to do? I told Marc, that I had been craving potato salad for a while. We had a few potatoes in the pantry and the goods to make good dressing. Hurray! He was all over that idea.

Now, I'm not talking about potato salad with mayo. I have no issues with that kind and I love mayonnaise but what I wanted was a French version. My mother's. The potatoes are boiled till tender, peeled while still hot, halved, sliced thick then tossed while still warm in a bowl where they'll soak up a well seasoned vinaigrette made of red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, salt, pepper and oil and then party with the onions (or French shallots if you have them). Simple but tasty. It's a great side for fried fish by the way. I also had a can of tuna that I knew would work well with this. Potato salad with tuna it was! Before you get all squeamish with a "yuck" and close this page, wait! Please STAY! Stick around and give it a chance. Even Marc who wasn't convinced, kept shoving more in! He admitted it was tasty and only wished for more. Seriously. Taaasty! Now, the problem with late night food pics (for an amateur like me), is poor lighting. Freaking challenging!!! It gets brightened later in photoshop but sometimes too much! :) I was so hungry I almost didn't bother to photograph this in the first place but I wanted to document.

So lets just look at the picture of the actual salad below and get this out of the way shall we? Don't let the looks deceive you. Your taste buds will thank you later.

Potato and tuna with scallion and celery salad.

This is all about improvising with what you have. Ideally 2 French shallots chopped fine and added to the dressing would have been great. Often I just settle for what I have. Red, white or yellow onions give more bite but all we had was a small bunch of skinny green onions to save the day. Turns out it was perfect and way easier to digest so late in the evening. We also had 4 celery stalks, happy to join in to add great crunch. Add to that the 1 can of tuna, the 6 potatoes and it felt like the perfect ratio for 2 hungry people. I used leftover dressing I had made a few nights before. It had a little bit of chopped onions left in there and I was going to milk any onion flavour I could get! This is a "go by feel" salad so in the end (after a good taste), I adjusted with a few more splashes of red wine vinegar that I drizzled on top. Same with the salt and pepper. The point is to taste, taste, taste and adjust. There were a few romaine heart leaves in the fridge too. They were still crunchy and it felt silly to leave them out so I washed and dried them well, ripped them into manageable bites and lined our plates with them before dishing the potatoes on top. Aside from the vinegar and oil, I never measure. I had to redo this just to get an idea of what one would need. This also explains the 2 brighter fun pics above. ;)

I later realized that we had asparagus and wished I added those too but they turned into a tasty speedy lunch the next day. Other great additions would be green beans cooked al dente and cut in 2 if too long, radishes sliced thin, cherry tomatoes halved, sliced hardboiled eggs, chopped parsley, capers, cornichons... So many options if you don't mind experimenting! I'm just glad we were limited to a simple version. If you're using a cooking onion I would only use half. If you have french shallots (the best), finely chop 2!

Potato Salad with Tuna

4 big potatoes or 6 medium ones
A bunch of small green onions (about 8)
4 celery stalks
1 can of tuna (in water, oil or broth, doesn't matter)
Romaine heart leaves (enough to generously line your bowl or plate)
French dressing


Red wine vinegar 4 tablespoons plus extra at the end if you wish
Extra virgin olive oil 8 tablespoons
Dijon mustard 3 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon
Salt (a teaspoon)
Freshly cracked pepper

First make the dressing. You can do it in a bowl and whisk with a fork or you can shake it in a jar. I use both methods. The last one is handy when in a rush or with no clean utensils in site. ;) It's also handy if you made too much. Just leave the leftover in the jar and save the rest for later in the fridge. In bowl or jar pour the red wine vinegar in which you'll add a good spoonful of dijon mustard with salt and freshly cracked pepper. I go by taste so for the salt I'll say start with 1/2 a teaspoon... taste. I can garantee you that you'll want more in the end. Add to taste. Whisk a bit or shake. Add the oil, whisk or shake to get a nice emulsion. Taste and adjust if needed.

Wash the potatoes (don't peel them), plunk them in a pot of water, bring to a boil and cook till a knife slips out of them easily (or cheat and use the microwave if in a rush like us).

Wash, trim celery and slice. Same with green onions. Wash your romaine heart leaves, dry well and rip in reasonable bites.

Take your potatoes and peel them while still hot but manageable. The skin should come off easily with the help of a paring knife. Once peeled, cut in half and roughly slice over the bowl. You want the slices to be thick but not perfect (anywhere between 1/4 to 1/2 inch). Pour half the dressing over them and toss gently. Let them soak it up. It will disappear. 

Add onions and celery. Open the can of tuna, drain the liquid (pour that in a bowl for your kitty) and scatter the flesh over the salad. Add the rest of the dressing and toss gently. Taste. Taste again! Does it need vinegar? Does it need salt? Adjust till your happy. Chances are you will want to add one last tablespoon of vinegar on top. Maybe more oil. When I did this again recently, I remembered a little jar of capers and added 2 full tablespoons. Great idea! :)

Line your wide plate or pasta bowl with the leaves, generously spoon the salad on top, grab a fork and dig in! Leftovers will be great the next day and best at room temperature.


  1. I think I'm going to make this for my Easter dinner, Kara's parents and my parents are coming over!

    1. Hi Dave! Not sure why the first reply didn't show but maybe you got my message already. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy! :) My favourite way to eat this is next to some fried fish like a nice fillet of sole (lightly dredged in flour and quickly fried in a mix of butter and oil). Let me know how it turned out! I hope you have a great Easter as a little family and enjoy all the visiting! :)