This French lentil Niçoise salad is a delightful vegan spin on the classic recipe! Marinated French lentils serve as a protein source in place of eggs or tuna. The salad is bursting with flavor and texture, and it’s perfect for sharing.
It’s finally starting to feel like spring in New York City. We’re having cold days here and there, of course: it was 27 degrees Fahrenheit when I woke up on Friday. But for the most part, temperatures are becoming more mild. Flowers are starting to spring up in the park, and it stays light outside until dinnertime.
With the shift in seasons comes a renewed interest in colorful, plant-based salads. This French lentil Niçoise salad has been a favorite since I made it a couple weeks ago! I love the fact that it uses some of my favorite springtime produce—new potatoes, green beans, tender lettuce—and that it’s full of different textures.
In place of the traditional salade Niçoise proteins, I use marinated French lentils. I love the way they work in the recipe.
Salade Niçoise originated in Nice, France. It’s typically composed of cooked green beans, fingerling or new potatoes, tomatoes or roasted peppers, and egg. Sometimes it also includes anchovies or tuna.
I’ve most often seen salade Niçoise served as a composed salad, which is to say that it’s arranged on a platter. But it’s also fine to toss it together in one large portion or in serving bowls. You can serve this lentil Niçoise salad either way.
It’s not hard to veganize Niçoise salad, since the traditional recipe contains so many vegetables as it is! The main challenge is to replace the central protein sources: eggs and/or fish.
I love French lentils. They’re a little smaller than regular green lentils. More importantly, they hold their shape better than green or brown lentils in cooking. They’re tender, but not mushy.
I use French lentils in my simple French lentil soup, and I often use them in my braised lentils on toast. They’re probably the lentils I most often throw into salads (including, appropriately, the Niçoise bowls in Power Plates).
No, French lentils aren’t necessary for the lentil Niçoise to work. The salad would also be great with beluga lentils and pardina lentils. Regular green or brown lentils are also fine.
Be sure to taste a few of the lentils after you’ve boiled them for about 20 minutes. This will help you to keep track of whether or not the lentils are becoming at all mushy. French lentils usually cook in 25-30 minutes, in my experience, but regular green lentils take closer to 20-25. It all depends on the age of the lentils and the specific lentils you’re using.
I used new potatoes in my salad, but you can use fingerlings or red potatoes, too. Regular Yukon gold potatoes will also work well! Just be sure to quarter them before roasting.
Speaking of, I like to roast the potatoes for this salad, rather than boiling them. It helps to give them more flavor, and I like their crispy texture.
You can use regular green beans or haricots vert—thinner, more quick cooking green beans—in the recipe. Frozen beans are fine, if you don’t have fresh.
It’s definitely not tomato season, but I love tomatoes in Niçoise salad, and I recently got some greenhouse grape tomatoes that were sweet and vibrant tasting even in March. Grape, cherry, and plum tomatoes are all excellent in the salad.
If you don’t have tomatoes, then roasted red bell peppers are a good substitute. Many traditional Niçoise salad recipes call for red peppers as it is.
Olives give the lentil Niçoise salad a nice, salty kick. If you don’t like olives, you can omit them. I always use black olives (Nyon or kalamata) in the recipe.
I love the way that tender, butter lettuce works in this springtime salad. But mesclun, arugula, baby spinach, and any other baby greens are fine as a substitute.
The vinaigrette that I use to dress the lentil Niçoise salad is a mixture of champagne vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Simple! White wine vinegar is fine in place of the champagne vinegar. So is freshly squeezed lemon juice or red wine vinegar. Use what you have.
I think this salad is hearty enough to qualify as a meal-sized salad: something that you can enjoy all on its own. But serving it with some toast or sliced baguette certainly isn’t a bad idea.
You could also make the lentil Niçoise even heartier by adding a cooked whole grain to the recipe. I’d love to try it with farro, bulgur wheat, or cooked quinoa.
One of the nice things about the lentil Niçoise salad is that it’s easy to make ahead. When I made it recently, I roasted the potatoes and cooked and marinated the French lentils in advance. I also whisked up the vinaigrette ahead of time.
All of these components can be stored for a few days in airtight containers in the fridge. By the time you’re ready to assemble the salad, doing so is really just a matter of chopping your fresh vegetables and then adding the batch-cooked components.
This is a pretty sturdy salad, and I think that the leftovers keep well even after all of the ingredients have been mixed up. I stored mine for a full three days in the fridge. They made my work-from-home lunches easy.
I love winter food more than anything, in all of its cozy glory. But as April gets underway, it does feel nice to see bright colors and lots of green on my plate. This lentil Niçoise feels like a harbinger of spring and new beginnings, and I’m so happy to have made it when I did.
Hope you’ll enjoy it, too!