Some say that baking your own wedding cake is ambitious. But how about cooking the entire meal, from start to finish? That’s what Anguel and I asked when we first started planning our wedding. And we were promptly told that was the most insane idea we’ve ever had. You know what? It totally was, but we did it anyways.
After deciding we were indeed going to cater our own wedding, the next step was planning out the fully vegetarian menu. Of our entire guest list, there were only two other non-meaters, so we definitely had a challenge ahead of us. The food needed to be delicious and satisfying for everyone - and we needed to be able to prep most of it in advance. We tested a version of this Nicoise Salad in the early days, and tinkered with the recipe quite a bit in the months leading up to the wedding. Which is to be expected when you make it over a dozen times. We added french lentils for a bit of extra oomph, changed the ratios (more potatoes, less green beans), improved the dressing, and streamlined the cooking process. This is the version that’s here to stay.
Not only does this dish look visually impressive (perfect for serving guests), but it’s also absolutely delicious. The fresh lemon, dill and caper dressing is zippy and refreshing. And there really is something for everyone: crisp veggies, creamy bite-sized potatoes, salty olives, protein-packed lentils and eggs. We call it a “salad”, but it’s really more of a main dish. All the stunning colors and textures are enough to make anyone forget about the meat; instead they can focus on scooping their own perfect combination of ingredients. Really like green beans? Go crazy. Don’t like olives? Just don’t pick up any of those for your plate. It’s a choose your own adventure kind of dish, in the best way possible. Also, leftovers keep well in containers, so pack up extras or meal prep this recipe for easy lunches and dinners throughout the week.
There are a handful of of components in this salad, but don’t get discouraged. It isn’t nearly as difficult to put together as you might think. While the lentils are cooking away, you’ll use a second pot of salted boiling water to quickly cook the potatoes, green beans and eggs in batches. An ice bath (i.e. big bowl of ice & cold water) is recommended to quickly cool the cooked components. For the green beans, it helps to retain the bright colour. But, ultimately if you want you can skip this step you can, just be sure to rinse with cold water and pay extra attention to avoid overcooking. While your veggies cook, you can whip up the dressing. The hardest part is just making sure you have all the ingredients - then toss everything in a jar and give it a good shake. To save yourself time on day-of, you can prep the individual components in advance. Then all you need to do is assemble, which just means laying out all the pretty, colorful veggies onto a plate and drizzle with the remaining dressing.
We use eggs in this dish to make it a bit heftier for the crowd, and we find the colour and texture quite hard to substitute here. However, to make this recipe vegan, omit the eggs and swap the honey for another liquid sweetener of choice (like maple syrup).
Vegetarian Lentil Nicoise Salad
- ¾ cup dried French lentils (rinsed and picked over)
- 1 lb baby potatoes
- 1 lb green beans (trimmed)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup radishes, quartered (about 1 bunch)
- ¼ cup Kalamata or Nicoise olives (whole)
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (see note 1)
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (see note 1)
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (more for garnish)
- 2 teaspoons grainy mustard
- 1½ teaspoons dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- Cook lentils: Add lentils to a medium saucepan and cover with 3-inches (7 cm) water. Cover with lid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until lentils are tender (not mushy), about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Cook potatoes: Meanwhile, add potatoes to a large pot of salted water. Cover with a lid, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil potatoes until fork-tender (10 to 15 minutes). Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice and cold water to make an ice bath. Scoop out potatoes and transfer to ice bath.
- Blanch green beans: Bring the pot of water back up to a boil. Add green beans, cook until bright green and tender (but still crisp), about 2 minutes. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer green beans to the ice bath. (Keep the water in the pot). Once the potatoes and green beans are no longer hot, remove from ice bath and let drain in a colander over the sink.
- Cook eggs: Gently lower eggs into the large pot of boiling water. Cook for 8 minutes. (If the ice in ice bath has melted, top up with more ice). Transfer eggs to ice bath. When cool enough to handle, peel eggs and cut into quarters.
- Make dressing: Meanwhile, add lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, grapeseed oil, shallots, capers, dill, grainy mustard, dijon mustard, honey, salt, and pepper) to a jar. Give the jar a good shake to mix. (Alternatively whisk dressing in a small bowl).
- Assemble: In a large bowl, toss green beans with 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Transfer green beans to a large serving platter. Add lentils to the bowl, gently mix with ¼ cup of the dressing, then transfer to platter. Add potatoes to the bowl, toss with 2 tablespoons of the dressing, then transfer to platter. Arrange eggs, radishes, and olives on top. Drizzle with remaining dressing and garnish with more dill.
- Oil: Since olive oil tends to solidify in the fridge, we use a mix of olive oil and grapeseed oil to keep the dressing loose when its cold. If you don't plan to have leftovers, you can replace the grapeseed oil with more olive oil.
- Vegan option: Omit eggs (you can add more lentils or chickpeas if you'd like). Use maple syrup instead of honey.
- Recipe adapted from Epicurious Green Bean Nicoise Salad