Recipes

my favorite lentil salad

My friend Olga makes a lentil salad that nobody can stop eating. Yes, lentils. A salad. I can feel your skepticism through this computer screen (it’s my single superpower) but please feel assured that I would never lie to you, about lentils especially. Her recipe is one of the greatest Trader Joe’s “hacks” of all time: 1 package of their prepared lentils, 1 jar of their bruschetta topping, and then Olga always adds more chopped tomatoes, cilantro, and avocado.

tomatoesavocadolentil salad ingredientsmake the salsa dressingperfectly cooked lentilsready to mix

The only change I make at home is that instead using the jarred topping, I use a half-batch of my Quick, Easy Salsa, a quick blend of white onion, garlic, cilantro, jalapeño, and lime that turns the most basic can of tomatoes into a perfect bowl of salsa. Here, it’s the dressing; we add hot sauce to taste and then we scoop it up with tortilla chips, usually standing in the kitchen. It’s one of my favorite workday lunches and it’s absolutely not right or fair that I’ve taken as long as I have to tell you about it. You can send all sternly-worded letters of dismay directly to the editor (it me) and she will nod her head in full agreement. I can’t wait for you to get hooked on this, too.

my favorite lentil salad

Previously

6 months ago: Frozen Strawberry Daiquiris
1 year ago: Lemon and Lime Mintade
2 years ago: Roasted Squash and Tofu with Ginger
3 years ago: Plush Coconut Cake
4 years ago: Sheet Pan Meatballs with Crispy Turmeric Chickpeas
5 years ago: Chocolate Dutch Baby
6 years ago: Blood Orange, Almond, and Ricotta Cake and Cabbage and Sausage Casserole
7 years ago: Key Lime Pie and Make Your Own Vanilla Extract
8 years ago: Pear and Hazelnut Muffins and Warm Lentil and Potato Salad
9 years ago: Lentil Soup with Sausage, Chard, and Garlic
10 years ago: Buttermilk Roast Chicken
11 years ago: Baked Potato Soup
12 years ago: Black Bean Soup + Toasted Cumin Seed Crema and Cranberry Syrup and an Intensely Almond Cake
13 years ago: Clementine Cake and Mushroom Bourguignon
14 years ago: Chicken Caesar Salad and Fried Chicken
15 years ago: Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

My Favorite Lentil Salad

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Source: Smitten Kitchen
  • Print

  • 2 1/2 cups cooked, cooled small green, brown, or black lentils [see Note at end]
  • One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
  • 1/2 a large or 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 1 to 2 fresh jalapeños, to taste, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, divided
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lime, juiced, plus more to taste
  • 1 large firm-ripe avocado, diced
  • 2 cups (about a 12-ounce package) cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • Hot sauce, to taste
  • Tortilla chips for serving (optional)

Set a strainer set over a bowl to catch juices, and pour can of tomatoes into the strainer. If the tomatoes look full (i.e. whole and intact), press on them a bit to release more.

Place onion, jalapeño, and garlic in a blender or food processor [see Note at end] and run the machine in short bursts until they’re in smaller bits. Add two-thirds (just eyeball it) cilantro, drained tomatoes, salt, and juice of one lime and run the machine until the tomatoes are well-chopped but not totally smooth. When making salsa for scooping up with chips, I will add some of the reserved tomato juices, a tablespoon at a time, if the mixture is very thick, but to dress this lentil salad, we don’t want it very thin. Adjust seasoning to ensure it’s robust enough to dress the lentils, adding salt, pepper, and more lime juice, if needed to taste.

Place lentils in a big bowl. If they’re from a vacuum-pack, use your fingers to break up clumps. (I find a spoon or fork damages the lentils too much.) Add 1 1/2 cups of tomato mixture to the lentils and stir to combine. Taste and add more salsa to taste; I usually go with a full 2 cups. Season with salt and black pepper to taste, and add more lime juice if desired. Add avocado, tomatoes, and reserved cilantro and stir gently to combine. Serve with hot sauce and tortilla chips, if you wish.

Leftovers keep for 5 days in the fridge.

Notes:

  • Let’s talk about lentils: The best kind to use in salads are those that do not fall apart when cooked. My favorites are small green (often sold as lentils du Puy), small brown lentils (sometimes called castelluccio), or even black lentils. Cook them in salted water according to their package directions, or whatever your favorite way to cook lentils is, then cool them before using. Here I’m using one 17.6-ounce package of Trader Joe’s Steamed & Fully Cooked Lentils, a truly perfect product.
  • If you’re using an immersion or regular (i.e. not high-powered like a Vitamix) blender instead of a food processor to make the salsa, it helps to start with more finely chopped onion, garlic, and jalapeño. As written, roughly chopped is fine, presuming the machine will be mulching it further for us.
  • Deb, why are we making a full batch of your salsa when we will only use half? Because I want you to be able to add more to taste and because I’m thrilled to have extra — for tacos, for eggs, for chips. You could halve the tomatoes and other salsa ingredients, but I don’t want you to to come up short if you want more than it makes.
  • When making the salad with an eye towards leftovers for future lunches, I’ll often leave the avocado out so it doesn’t get soft or discolored in the fridge. [It’s still 100% okay to eat, but doesn’t look as cute.] Instead, I’ll add some each time I eat it.
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    60 comments on my favorite lentil salad

      1. deb

        I’ve understood that, like beans, it’s been shown to absolutely safe to salt the cooking water. It will not toughen beans or keep them from cooking. (Acidity, however, can slow things down.)

    1. Kelly

      I totally agree about the Trader Joe’s lentils!

      I use them all the time – open and put into a container in the fridge and use them in a gazillion ways. I was introduced to the hack of 1 package of their prepared lentils, 1 jar of their bruschetta topping a few years ago and it is my go-to easy potluck contribution. Gone in moments when served w/ tortilla chips.

      My other hack is to mix trader joe’s lentils w/ rice I have in the refrigerator w/ a little bit of chutney. Warm it up and then top with diced red onion, cucumber, cilantro and a dollop of greek yogurt. A super easy lunch.

      Or, I make gyros using the lentils as the base in the pita and top with the cucumbers, tomatoes, onion and tatziki.

      Or, they do really well when making lentil burgers because they aren’t watery.

      Okay, I’ll stop. I love SK and I love TJ lentils. A perfect match :)

      1. deb

        I’m so glad it’s not just me. They’re… perfect. They also have a long shelf life in the fridge (and longer, even) in the freezer so I’m occasionally tempted to hoard them.

          1. Marion Walls

            Absolutely – all pulses freeze brilliantly! I cook pulses in batches from dry, as a greater selection is available dried than in cans. Beans cook quicker if soaked overnight; lentils don’t need soaking. 1 cup dried makes ~2.5 cups cooked. When cooked, drain well in a colander. Spoon into glass canning jars & screw the lid on (no need to process), then store in the freezer. I use 1 cup jars (because 1/2 cup cooked lentils usually makes a good serving size for 1 person) so I’m not ploughing through the same type of pulse for multiple meals in a week :). Remove jar from freezer & defrost overnight in the fridge, or defrost directly in a microwave if you need to use immediately. Use in any recipe that calls for a can of cooked lentils or beans. Keeps for 3 days max in the fridge after thawing.

            1. Emily

              Delicious thus far, and I haven’t yet added the cherry tomatoes or avocado (I’m making ahead for weekday lunches, so I’ll add in the fresh veggies as I eat it so they don’t brown – or freeze, since my fridge likes to make popsicles out of everything – and stay nice and fresh). This reminds me of a Skinnytaste recipe where slices of hard boiled eggs and Cholula hot sauce are added on top of the lentils – it’s absolutely delicious, and I think the eggs will work wonderfully here, too.

    2. Jessie Scanlon

      I can’t wait to try this!

      On the subject of lentils, have you tried Melissa Clark’s lentil minestrone? I use black lentils and it is one of my picky children’s favorite meals.

    3. Sue

      It says at the end reserved cilantro. I don’t see where we are supposed to have any set aside. I can’t wait to try this! Thanks you for another yummy recipe, Sue

    4. SallyB

      But…. SOUP! Our household has been waiting for the New Years’ soup recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Admittedly, this lentil salad appears a worthy stand-in.
      Thank you for adding your humor, wisdom and flavor to our lives! Our family eats SK recipes multiple times a week.

    5. Erin

      Okay I’ll be that person: how much salsa are we using for this? I realise I should be making a fresh batch of your salsa, but I actually happen to have an excess of salsa and I’m trying to find a use for it that doesn’t involve shoveling it in my mouth with tortilla chips.

      Sounds amazing by the way, thank you for this recipe!

    6. Erin

      Okay I’ll be that person: how much salsa is this calling for? A cup? Because I happen to have an excess of salsa and I’d love to have another use for it.

      Thank you for this!

      (I tried sending this before but it’s told me I’ve already asked? So sorry if this one is now a repeat.. if it doesn’t work this time I’ll just cross my fingers and hope someone else asks)

    7. Meg

      What does avocado bring to the table here? I’m allergic and have never had it (in my adult memory). I can experiment with substitutes, but trying to figure out if it’s a flavor or texture thing that I’d miss. Maybe roasted sweet potatoes, chunks of cheese, tofu…?

      1. Anne

        Yes! I wanted to ask the same! Allergic as well and wondering wat aspect of it needs replacing. I hope it’s not cheese to be the perfect substitute (allergic again… :/)
        Roasted pumpkin? Does take away from the simplicity of the recipe however..

        1. Tia

          This lentil/bruschetta hack has been one of my favorites for a couple of years, but I haven’t gone the salsa route. I usually add a ridiculous amount of cucumber and an extra splash of vinegar. Sometimes feta too, or fresh spinach. Even the kids will eat it willingly. It’s the perfect potluck contribution if you don’t have a kitchen and a regular on our summer camping menu.

      2. Amy S

        Feta is a great addition to this salad. I only put it in the serving I am eating. I make this salad all of the time using the TJ prepared bruschetta and I always add feta. I have never had it with avocado.

      3. Randa

        Avocados add richness and flavor along with the soft texture. I think any of the items you list would be great subs if avocados aren’t for you. Or just leave it out. The flavor of avocados is very mild.

      4. Sarah

        Meg, my avocado wasn’t ripe enough and the recipe was delicious as made. You won’t be disappointed but I was thinking of adding a little cucumber to the recipe before I got lazy after making the salsa and cooking the lentils!

    8. Janet A

      I was Zoom babysitting my granddaughter after school this afternoon, waiting for her parents to get home from work, but I needed to make a lunch for those of us on this side of the country. And this recipe arrived to the rescue. I followed it, mainly–okay pretty much, using du Puy lentils, sad not entirely ripe grape tomatoes, a double of tablespoons of last night’s spicy guacamole, a handful of chopped cilantro, some grocery store salsa–sorry, Deb–and lime juice. My main deviation was, just as the lentils were getting to creamy-firm doneness, I added a cup of frozen corn kernels and let them come to a boil. Grandpa and I thought it was a perfect Zoom lunch, and next time I’ll make the salsa. Promise…

    9. LitProf

      Rushed out to Trader Joe’s and bought the ingredients; followed the recipe exactly. Kids ignored the pasta I had made for them and fought over the lentil salad. Daughter, shoveling salad into Tupperware before anyone else is done eating: “Can I take all of this to school for lunch tomorrow?” Son #1, wrestling Daughter for spoons of salad: “Mom, how often can you make this? Can we have it again tomorrow?” Son #2, not looking up from bowl as he crams lentils into his mouth: “This. Is. A. Keeper.” Me: “Guess what Deb’s next book is called?” Husband, looking despondently at empty serving bowl: “But I wanted seconds.”
      Deb! You are a magician! Thank you!

      1. Pippa

        This made me laugh out loud! I was already thinking I’d need to double this for my lentil-crazy family; now I think I may need to quadruple it!

    10. Claudia

      I love this idea for lentil salad! Martha Rose Shulman published Fast Vegetarian Feasts back in the 1970s. In the day of the dinosaurs. She had a similar take on a lentil soup with pasta. I made it over and over again for years

    11. SJ

      The finishing touch (as originally made in my TJ’s store) is crumbled feta on top of the lentil/bruschetta mix. One of my favorite meals! Trying your version tomorrow since I have all the ingredients on hand, can’t wait!

    12. Debby N

      As many of us, I have put on weight in the last several months, and as of today (the day after my birthday), I wanted to start eating a more healthy diet. This recipe fills the bill perfectly, and I’m going to make it tomorrow. BTW, I just finished a half pot (the rest in the freezer) of your shortribs/onion soup. It was wonderful, and I think this lentil recipe is the perfect follow-up. YTB Deb.

    13. I’ve been following Smitten Kitchen for so many years I cannot even remember now but never commented and felt like I needed to today to say: thank you for sharing so many amazing recipes for so many years. I hope you keep blogging here for many many more years to come. You’re a byword among my cooking friends.

    14. becky

      Yum! And before I moved to Germany, I would have been one of those skeptics…but now? Total convert! Just now out of curiosity, I checked on Chefkoch.de (one of the bigger recipe sites) and there are 591 recipes for “Linsensalat”. It’s quite popular on this side of the Atlantic. I make one with three types of lentils, cucumbers, tomatoes, mint, and feta (a very summery dish) but you can put all kinds of things in there – nuts, greens, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, etc. The key is getting the dressing right. Your blog is such a happy spot on the web – thank-you for your delightful writing and delicious recipes!!

    15. Robin

      I picked up this recipe at my Trader Joe’s, but their version adds a tub of crumbled feta. The color brightens the mix and I like the creaminess it adds. With or without feta, you’re right, it’s everyone’s favorite lentil salad! And SK is my go-to source for realistic cooking–love your tempting writing and photography too!

    16. This looks great. Also looks like the kind of recipe that is flexible enough to handle what I’ve got on hand, so I plan to riff on it.

      And I have now remembered my favorite lentil salad for winter – with curry, potatoes, apples, and cilantro.

    17. Linda M

      Just short of preparing your own lentils, TJ’s vacuum packed lentils are indeed a “truly perfect product.” You know how back in the day there was always a sample booth? Well, that’s how I discovered these lentils, otherwise I would never have tried pre-cooked lentils in a million years. They were served up with feta, and TJ’s own 21-seasoning salute. I bought both items that day and have never looked back. I always add a splash of vinaigrette and whatever crunchy veg I have in the fridge and I just feel so smug when I eat it. Who knew packaged lentils could be this good!

    18. JP

      I am probably the only person on your hugely read site that will be asking this, but, does anyone have digestive issues after eating lentils? I would love to eat them but I always have problems. Is it how I cook them? Is there something secret I should know before eating them? I can eat other beans (pinto, black, red, garbanzo) if I do not overdo it and although lentils are not exactly beans, I figured close enough, I’d be fine…but no. If anyone has answers to this problem, I would happily eat this yummy salad soon. Thanks.

      1. Lentil friend

        My mother has recently developed this issue, and we’re actually South Asian so she’s eaten many, many lentils in her lifetime. She also has issues with chickpeas but not so much with other beans. We haven’t found a solution yet, but you’re not alone. People say that hing or asafoetida helps with the gas from beans, but she hasn’t noticed a huge difference.

      2. AS

        Long time lurker, first time commenter. I have this same problem, and it runs in my family. I too am of South Asian origin, so it’s been a real problem. Lentils contain a high amount of FODMAPs. FODMAPs are a group of carbohydrates that are indigestible or poorly absorbed by certain people, and can lead to IBS-type symptoms. It can also exacerbate other digestive issues, like reflux disorder, and vice-versa.

        I personally have issues with digesting lentils, chickpeas, onions, garlic but I don’t think avocados… Although the amount of whatever food it is also has an impact. I tend to take mint oil capsules with meals and also have a ready supply of antacids and indigestion tablets.

        If any of that sounds relatable, I recommend reading up on high-FODMAP foods.

        1. JP

          Thanks to both Lentil Friend and AS. I will read up on this issue and glad to know others have problems too. So frustrating because even when you want to eat more healthy, it is not possible if you are feeling awful afterwards. Plus I really love all beans/lentils, etc. but they def do not love me!

    19. Stephanie

      I saw this recipe and did exactly what you said I would…lentils? yeah right… Yet here I am, literally standing at my counter eating this right out of the bowl, muttering to myself about how incredibly good this is and feeling terrible that I ever allowed myself to doubt you :)

    20. Catherine L

      I’m so looking forward to this! I’m looking for summery lunches (in New Zealand) as I’m sick of spinach orlettuce based salads. Looks like it’s going to be delicious!

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    22. Sarah

      This was great and I’m excited to have leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch! My avocado wasn’t ripe enough so tomorrow’s lunch will be even better.

      Since I cooked a pound of lentils, I will add remaining lentils and salsa to leftovers and cut some more tomatoes to add.

      If you are shopping at Trader Joe’s for the lentils, I highly recommend the mini san marzano tomatoes! Also, I added a little cumin to the salsa.