Salade Nicoise was the first recipe I made when I lived in France, a country that later would become my second home as an adult.
But at the time I was 19, spending a semester abroad. A week after my arrival, my French was barely sufficient to order a coffee, let alone get me through my first French cookbook. Despite the language barrier, one thing that that book made clear was that a true salade Nicoise never would include tomatoes because of the acid.
I stood at a turning point: Would I follow the cookbook's stern direction, or would I include my personal favorite part of every salade Nicoise I had ever eaten? (Dare I even call them that anymore?) I left out the tomatoes.
Nearly 30 years later, I make salade Nicoise on a regular basis for my family. It's what I call a "tray salad," or a huge salad I make by layering ingredients on a large tray, perfect for serving a crowd. We have a lot of family nearby, so if we have unexpected extra folks to feed, tray salads are easy to stretch. Just bulk up the tray with whatever extra ingredients are available. Toss on a few extra hard-boiled eggs, for instance.
With several family members being vegetarian, I have created a tuna-free version that gets the salty-fishy-brininess from capers and nori seaweed, and the protein from white navy beans. Of course, there is no harm in opening a can of tuna on the side for fish-eaters.
By the way, years after studying abroad, I moved back to Paris and married a man whose mom was born and raised in Nice. Guess what? She had never heard of a no-tomato rule, which just goes to show you that recipes are mere suggestions.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy."