You don’t have to look at me like that. I know, I know how you and most people feel about lentils. About how they’re mealy and brown and generally lackluster, like health food putty; about how you’ll eat them, sure, but only if you must. And how if I were trying to convince you that lentils are something that you will very much love if only you could try them this way, my way, that this yellow-and-muddy-purple-brown speckled thing up top, despite the ambitious efforts of the bright green parsley chop scattered over it, is not going to be the thing to pull it off.
But I wish it would. This warm lentil salad is a perfect mid-winter everything — a gorgeous pack-for-work lunch to keep you on this side of your Resolution karma, a perfect side dish to a roast, chops or sausage, and my new favorite thing to break a softly-cooked egg over. The creamy golden potatoes nestle among the perfect discs of thyme-scented lentils and the entire salad zings with finely chopped cornichon, capers and minced shallot that’s been lightly pickled in red wine vinegar, and a good grassy/fruity olive oil. It lightly crunches when you take a bite.
It’s secret, and what I feel is the secret of all great lentil salads, is in the lentils themselves: they’re tiny. If you’ve thus far eaten only mushy lentil salads, I dare say you’ve been using the wrong ones. While the falling-apart varieties have their uses (soups, patties, stews and dals), when it comes to salad, most of the tiny varieties — and especially dark green lentils de puy, greenish-brown lenticchie, even black lentils — stay intact, maintaining their namesake lens shape even when cooked until tender. If tapioca pearls are the caviar of the pudding world, these are unquestionably the caviar of the salad universe. And if the prospect of eating caviar salad for lunch this week doesn’t charm you, well,
you’re probably not married to a Russian I think this one could convert you.
New thing: As promised in last week’s chat, there’s finally a vegan category on this site. It’s only about half-populated; if you have a favorite recipe on the site that’s also vegan, please holler if I’ve missed it. (FWIW, I tend to skip salads for this and the vegetarian category, as most just are.) [Vegan Recipes on Smitten Kitchen] [Vegetarian Recipes on Smitten Kitchen]
One year ago: Intensely Chocolate Sables
Two years ago: Potato Chip Cookies
Three years ago: Chocolate-Peanut Spread (Peanutella)
Four years ago: Intensely Almond Cake + Cranberry Syrup
Five years ago: Clementine Cake and Mushroom Bourguignon
Six years ago: Chicken Caesar Salad and Fried Chicken
Seven years ago: Grapefruit Yogurt Cake
Warm Lentil and Potato Salad with a Garlicky Mustard Vinaigrette
Adapted from a few David Tanis recipes
If you can find tiny dark green French lentilles de Puy or Italian lenticcie Castelluccio, you’ll be glad you did; they’re minerally, nutty and not starchy at all — nothing like your average “for your health!” lentil mush soup. I tend to grab two bags or boxes whenever I find them, and keep them in the coolest, darkest place I can find in my steam-heated sauna of an apartment. I’ve also ordered the French lentils online before from here, though I actually brought these inexpensive lentils — and the capers and olive oil, used here — back from Castroni, the greatest food store in Rome, last summer.
Before you ask, Can you put kale in this too? Of course you can.
Makes 4 lunch servings, 6 servings as a side dish
2 large shallots, 1 halved, 1 finely diced,
4 sprigs of thyme
1 small bay leaf
1 cup dry small green lentils (see Note up top for varieties)
1 small bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 pound fingerling potatoes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced or smashed to a paste (I use less)
1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
1/4 cup of your favorite olive oil
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed if salted, drained if brined, and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons cornichons or other sour gherkins, roughly chopped
1 to 2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Cook lentils: Pick over and rinse lentils. Place them in a small/medium saucepan with the halved shallot, thyme branches, bay leaf, some salt and 4 cups of water. Simmer the lentils over medium heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until firm-tender. Drain (discarding shallot, thyme and bay leaf) and keep warm.
Meanwhile, cook potatoes: In a separate saucepan, cover potatoes with 1 to 2 inches cold water. Set timer for 15 minutes, then bring potatoes to a simmer. When the timer rings, they should be easily pierced with a toothpick or knife. Drain and keep warm.
Make the dressing: Place the chopped shallot and red wine vinegar in the bottom of a small bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in minced garlic, dijon, a pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper and olive oil. Stir in chopped capers, cornichon and scallions.
Assemble salad: Slice potatoes into 1/2-inch segments and place in serving bowl. Add lentils, dressing and all but 1 tablespoon parsley and combine. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper if needed. Scatter salad with remaining parsley.
Serve alone, with a soft-cooked egg on top, or as a side to a larger roast, chop or sausages. Reheat as needed. If you plan to make this at the outset of several meals and would like to eat it warm, I’d keep the dressing separate, warming only the lentils and potatoes and stirring in the cold dressing to taste.
Keeps in fridge for up to 5 days.