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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lentil Salad w/ Lemon Dressing

Dirt never tasted so good:

Some things are easy to defend. Take the ethereal creaminess of a really good goat cheese, with all its wondrous tang, for example. Last week I worked an event at a local grocery that has the most delightful cheese counter, complete with the most delightful staff. I always manage to feel totally accepted when I'm there for a tasting, despite my being about a third as cool as even the most uncool employee. I also always fall for the (marketing) trap and leave with a slew of things I didn't know I needed. Last Friday's purchases: a $7 loaf of French goat cheese (the very French name and label escape me at the moment) and a bottle of hard cider. Can I just say that I don't even have to begin to defend my spending $7 on cheese because a) buying the whole loaf would have cost about $25 and b) all I have to do to defend that luxuriously smooth, nutty, creamy cheese is salivate all over my keyboard. *salivating* Did I mention we drizzled honey over it too and served it with slices of really beautiful Honey crisp apple? *more salivating*

Other things, however, are a bit more difficult to recommend, especially to a stubborn less-beans-more-meat sort of audience. With that in mind I would like to take a moment to endorse the lentil. Some people, you know who you are, can be totally insensitive to the delicate nature of beans and lentils especially. Lentils taste like dirt and thanks to tragically poor preparation and flavor pairings they often receive a bad wrap, winding up as filler in about a hundred vegetarian burger recipes or occasionally on the wrong side of a badly seasoned soup. But the lentil, highly fibrous and chocked full of protein, is an impossibly noble bean and more deserving of a place in your recipe arsenal than that sell-out the black bean. (sorry black bean) Did I mention lentils taste like dirt? I like that.

I realize that not everyone likes the way dirt tastes which is why I chose to post this salad recipe with its bright lemon dressing and green onions. Believe it or not the lentils undergo a transformation when paired with the olive oil and lemon; the earthy flavor mellows out considerably in the sauce while the whole dish is brightened by the sweet crunch of the fresh peppers and green onions. This is a great lunch dish, served warm or cold, with some "everything bagel" style flat breads or even a few wedges of pita with some, forgive me, goat cheese. Scratch that, the goat cheese is mandatory. You could always toss half the lentil mixture in with some wild rice for a heftier side dish at dinner though. And since lentils are extraordinarily cheap and keep in the pantry with little to no babysitting (just an airtight container) they are the perfect thing to have on hand as the semester gears up and the weather cools down.

Notes from the cheese counter: I learned a beautiful lesson last week: ask questions. People who have a passion for food, especially foods like cheese, like to give suggestions. They really do want you to go home happy. I would never have picked up the cheese I ended up buying without some guidance. Left to my own devices I probably would have sauntered out with a rather ordinary wedge of some cows-milk something or other which, in retrospect, would have been a disaster. Be honest when they ask why you like something. Also, ask for a sample. At the cheese counter you can often taste something before buying it or have an amount cut down to a size that fits into your budget. Just because a cheese is expensive doesn't mean you can't afford to enjoy it.

Lentil Salad with Lemon Dressing:
Variation of Whole Living Body & Soul 2006 "Lemony Lentil Salad"
Serves 4+

1 1/2 cups dried lentils

1/4 teaspoon salt

zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil (I prefer extra-virgin in this recipe)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 diced red, yellow orange (or a combination) peppers

3 scallions, finely sliced

1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese, to serve

1. Add the lentil to a pot and cover with a few inches of water, stirring in the 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are soft.

2. Drain and rinse the lentils in cold water, draining off excess water. Set aside.

3. In a bowl whisk the lemon zest, juice, oregano, Dijon and lots of fresh cracked black pepper. Whisk in the olive oil and continue whisking until combined.

4. Seed and chop the cleaned peppers. If you like raw peppers use more; alternatively, if you don't like raw peppers very much use a little less.

5. Stir the peppers and cooled lentils into the dressing and toss to coat. Chop the scallions and stir into the lentils gently. Serve warm or chilled with some freshly crumbled goat cheese and an extra wedge of lemon.

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