I can barely close my staples cupboard.
Between the lentils, couscous, pasta, and at least five types of rice, the shelves are jammed with an overabundance of ingredients. I’ve squeezed half-eaten packages of rice noodles over near-empty bags of Arborio and sushi rice. I have two types of couscous (regular and Israeli) and two of quinoa (regular and black). And there are at least three bags of lentils: one I bought on impulse because I liked the look of the green disks, mottled like tiny pebbles, a freezer bag of several cups my parents gave me during a visit because I expressed interest in eating more lentils and a third bag I inherited from a friend when she was moving away and was purging her cupboards of all foodstuffs.
The trouble is, I had no idea what to do with them.
One of my New Year’s resolutions — which, I will admit, I’m not really fastidious about, though I like the idea of setting goals, even if I don’t always accomplish them. It’s like how I love to make lists and then check off tasks when I get them done – was to start attacking the staples cupboard in an effort to reduce the volume of ingredients in there.
Lentils, I decided, were to be the first challenge.
I must have read somewhere about warm lentil salads because that was the first thing that come to mind when I decided to tackle this. I have no recollection of when or where I would have stumbled across such a recipe. But I had such a firm idea in my mind of what I was looking for: cooked lentils studded with slightly sautéed carrot, celery and onion and then tossed in a French-style vinaigrette and served up still warm.
Most of the ones I found while searching called for goat cheese, bacon and sausage. I’m certainly not against the idea of adding any of those to a salad. (In fact, I would count those three things among my top favourite foods; certainly they are things that would improve a lot of salads.) But this was about using up what I already have in my kitchen. And the few ingredients in the recipe I finally found on Molly Wizenberg’s blog, Orangette, were all things I had on hand.
It comes together quickly, especially if you time it so you are chopping and then cooking the vegetables while the lentils quietly simmer away with a bay leaf. Drain them and toss into the pan of onions, carrots and celery, then slosh over the vinaigrette and stir. Sprinkle with parsley, some crunchy flaked sea salt and it’s ready.
After patiently photographing the dish in the last few moments of daylight, I took that first bite.
The earthy lentils combined with the slightly softened vegetables and the mustard-spiked dressing, along with the fresh green taste of parsley was perfect. The crunch of sea salt and the small sprinkle of vinegar for added tang put the dish over the top.
I polished off the entire bowl. And then scooped myself another one.
The simplicity of all the flavours came through, but together created a homey dish, perfect for a winter afternoon.
After eating this, I could see getting through the rest of the lentils won’t be a problem.
(Edited to add that I made this again less than a week later. That is how good it is. Go forth, make it. It’s easy and so delicious!)
French-Style Warm Lentil Salad
This recipe comes frrom Molly Wizenberg of Orangette, which she had adapted from Epicurious.com. She says it is even better the second day, though I would add the caveat, “if you have any left.”
- 1 cup (250 mL) French green (also known as “Puy”) lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 3 cups (750 mL) water
- 1 Turkish bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon (2 mL) salt, divided
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) finely chopped fresh thyme
- 5 tablespoons (65 mL) olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons plus ½ tsp (27 mL) red wine vinegar
- ½ tablespoon (7 mL) Dijon mustard
- Crunchy sea salt, for serving
- 2 tablespoons (25 mL) finely chopped Italian parsley, for serving
In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils, water, and bay leaf to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in ¼ teaspoon (1 mL) salt, and then simmer, covered, for another 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but not falling apart.
While the lentils simmer, warm 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and 1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just softened, about 7 to 9 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons (25 mL) vinegar, mustard, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) salt. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons (50 mL) olive oil, and whisk to emulsify.
When the lentils are ready, drain them in a colander or sieve, and discard the bay leaf. Dump them into the skillet with the vegetables, and add the vinaigrette. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, until heated through. Stir in the remaining ½ tsp (2 mL) vinegar, and serve warm, with crunchy salt and parsley for sprinkling.
Makes 4 side-dish servings
This originally ran in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes, check out the Herald’s online food section.