If you only know lentils as tiny brownish-gray legumes that are boiled down into a not very appetizing looking soup, give French green lentils in a colorful salad a try and rethink your position on these nutritional powerhouse pulses.
Legumes are typically low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. They also contain beneficial fats and soluble and insoluble fiber. Lentils are legumes along with other types of beans, peas and peanuts. They grow in pods that contain either one or two lentil seeds that are round, oval or heart-shaped disks – some smaller than the tip of a pencil eraser.
Pulses, also known as grain legumes, are a group of 12 crops that includes dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils. They are high in protein, fiber, and various vitamins, provide amino acids, and are hearty crops. They are most popular in developing countries, but are increasingly becoming recognized as an excellent part of a healthy diet throughout the world.
The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses and I’ve been doing my part to branch out and discover new ways to love lentils besides lentil soup and the traditional French Lentil Salad which I first tried at Au Petit Riche in Paris where it is enlivened with bacon lardons, mais oui!, and presented in a mini, aged cast iron server lending the simple, rustic salad a bit of French country allure.
I literally laughed out loud when reading David Lebovitz‘s prelude to this recipe. Written in his lighthearted, satirical style he talks about how lentils have suffered indignity throughout the “hippy-dippy 1970s” but have been elevated from lowly health food bulk bins by rebranding fancy lentils as “caviar” or “beluga”. Such regal grandeur seems silly, yet he, and others, concede that the Le Puy green lentils are truly the best. There are French green lentils, and then there are the green lentils grown in the Le Puy region which have a superb flavor and texture and, as long as they are not overcooked, retain their shape and a certain subtle crunch that lends itself perfectly to mixing into salads. If you can’t find Le Puy green lentils, use other high quality French green lentils such as those from Bob’s Red Mill.
- 1 cup Bob's Red Mill French green lentils
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon dried)
- 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced, about ½ cup
- 1 small red onion, peeled and finely diced, about ¼ cup
- 1 rib celery, finely diced, about ¼ cup
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
- 4 ounces Cabot Cheese sharp white cheddar, sliced and cut into small cubes, about 1 cup
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Meyer Lemon olive oil
- 1 small shallot, peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon salt-free citrus and pepper spice blend
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Rinse the lentils and put them in a saucepan with 2 cups water, the bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the finely diced vegetables and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the lentils are tender; be careful not to overcook.
- While the lentils are cooking, make the dressing. Add all the ingredients to a lidded glass jar and shake to emulsify.
- Drain the lentils well, remove the bay leaf and thyme (if you used fresh sprigs) and put in a large glass bowl. Mix in half of the dressing and the parsley, wait to add the nuts and cheese until just before serving. The salad can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated. Bring the salad to room temperature before serving and reseason with the remaining dressing if necessary. Toss with nuts and cheese.
I adapted his recipe to make it low sodium by incorporating a Citrus Pepper blend for flavor instead of salt. He also suggests using half walnut oil and half olive oil, and I substituted Meyer lemon oil because its bright citrus notes also compensate for the lack of salt (plus I used pecans instead of walnuts in the salad).
Also, an aged cheese such as Cabot Creamery Aged Vermont White Cheddar packs a ton of flavor in those tiny cubes.
A recent visit to Vermont and the Cabot Creamery in Stowe had my suitcase filled with a variety of their white cheddar cheeses: Vermont Sharp, Extra Sharp, Seriously Sharp, Habanero, and one each of their Founders’ Collection. All the cheeses are fabulous and made from milk that is randomly tested to ensure that it is hormone and anti-biotic free. Cabot Creamery is a cooperative of 1,200 dairy farm families located throughout New York and New England. Plus, did you know that cheddar cheese is lactose-free?! Indeed, the lactose is lost during the process of making cheddar cheese.
We enjoyed a camp-style cheeseboard with nutty aged cheddar and fresh New England fruit on a cool summer’s eve while gazing upon the vast expanse of Lake Champlain in upstate New York and now we’re savoring them in my test kitchen by the sea! Life is good.