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Aug 17, 2010
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Wine With . . . Tuna Niçoise with a Moroccan Twist

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

When Rebecca Murphy and Keith Marton came to town last month, we invited them to join us for a Wine With dinner.  Since they are both experienced wine tasters--Rebecca is the founder and producer of the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition as well as a wine writer for that newspaper, while Keith is a physician and expert on wine and health--our challenge was to come up with a dish that would be an unpredictable, rather than obvious, partner for wine.  The result was the tuna-salad-with-a-twist recipe posted below.  

Our inspiration for this dish came from Joyce Goldstein, one of a small handful of reliable and prolific cookbook writers whose recipes tend to be both interesting and infallible.  (Some of you may know her as the mother of celebrated sommelier, writer, and wine educator Evan Goldstein.)  In her book Solo Suppers, Ms. Goldstein describes a dish she created for her son when he turned forty; she calls it, “Evan’s Birthday Chickpea Salad with Red Peppers, Grilled Tuna and Moroccan Vinaigrette.”  Since we had only a day’s notice to plan and prepare dinner, we took a few liberties with the basic recipe (substituting black beans for black chickpeas, for example), but the results were both delicious and fun to match with wine.

Since everything can be made ahead of time, this turns out to be a convenient and easy to prepare dish.  We used dried garbanzos and black beans, but canned ones certainly would work in a pinch.  The tuna may be served warm or at room temperature.  Canned tuna would be an appropriate and tasty substitute for fresh, and the possibilities for add-ons like tomatoes, capes, anchovies, haricots, and corn) are almost endless.    

Tuna Niçoise with a Moroccan Twist

(serves 4)

2 cups cooked chickpeas

2 cups cooked black beans

1 small red onion, or a sweet onion such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, finely minced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and minced

1/2 cup olive oil (plus a tablespoon or so extra for the tuna)

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or more, to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 cup minced cilantro

Salt and pepper

2 hard boiled eggs, quartered

1/2 cup pitted black or green olives, preferably Moroccan-style

4 tuna steaks, 5-6 ounces each

In a large bowl, combine the first four ingredients.  Whisk together the oil, vinegar, cayenne, and cumin.  Add the cilantro and taste for seasoning.  Stir this vinaigrette into the chickpea mixture, and correct the seasoning.  Brush the tuna steaks with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and grill until done according to taste (preferably rare-to-medium-rare).  To assemble the dish, top the beans with the quartered eggs and scatter the olives over it.  Cut the tuna steaks into four or five slices and arrange them on top of the salad. 

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We were unsure about color with this dish.  Grilled tuna, after all, is pretty hearty; so maybe a red would show best?  But then, this is a summer salad, so has to be refreshing, more of a white sort of thing.  And it’s Mediterranean, so what about pink?  Well, it turned out that wines in all three colors worked just fine, making this tuna salad one of the most versatile dishes we’ve explored in the five years of writing these Wine With columns.

Versatile does not, however, mean that anything goes.  Wines that tasted overtly of oak seemed off-putting, as did any red that had aggressive tannins.  Somewhat surprisingly, light-bodied whites performed well, so long as they had forward, even pungent flavors.  (A light Italian Pinot Grigio got lost, while both a Spanish Verdejo and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc held their own.)  Finally, while the five wines we’re recommending below do not include a rosé, that’s mostly because the one pink wine we tried (a Californian) was not in itself all that exciting.  We all agreed that a good dry Provencal example could be a fine partner for this tasty summer supper salad.



Approx. Price




Booekenhoutskloof, Franschhoek (South Africa) Semillon 2007

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)






Rich and almost waxy in texture, this wine had plenty of heft so never came close to playing second fiddle to the mélange of flavors in the dish.  Its ripe stone and citrus fruit character added to its appeal.




Cambria, Santa Maria Valley (California) Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard 2008




Youthful and fruity, almost juicy in its exuberance, this Pinot will probably be a more interesting wine with a couple of years of bottle age.  But as a partner for this particular dish, its lively energy turned out to be what made it so much fun to drink.




Castello di Gabbiano, Chianti Classico Reserva (Italy) 2006

(Imported by FWE Imports)







The dusty spice in both the bouquet and the finish of this wine worked well with the Mediterranean-inspired recipe.  Drinking it added a hint of something resembling dried oregano or other herbs to the experience, rendering everything somewhat earthy, and bringing out the deeper flavors in the dish.



Goldwater, Wairau Valley (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2008

(Imported by Pasternak Wine Imports)






The vivid grapefruit and green berry character of this classic-tasting Kiwi Sauvignon enlivened the dish, accenting its energy.  In this regard, it performed precisely the opposite function as the Chianti Classico, a wine which made the dish seem more substantial.  Both results, however, proved very satisfying.








José Pariente, Rueda (Spain) Verdejo 2008

(Imported by Grapes of Spain)






Much like the Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc, this wine exhibited vivid citrus (here lemon and lime) flavors enhanced by a hint of grassiness.  Verdejo, however, tends to taste somewhat tamer than Sauvignon, and that certainly was the case here.  A very elegant wine, it meshed seamlessly with the many different flavors in the dish.