Lentil salad was one of the first things I ever learned how to make it, over 30 years ago, and I still make it today …
Part of the reason for this is because it reminds me of my best friend’s mother, Rosa, one of the early cooking heroes. She had a wooden recipe box on her kitchen counter stuffed with Craig Claiborne’s scraps New York times, And he was the only person I knew who made special trips to track down special ingredients, and he was never content with the local supermarket where the rest of us marketed. No matter when she walked into her kitchen, it smelled amazing, and best of all, for the always hungry teens (Rosa’s daughter, Jenny and I) the fridge was always full of leftovers. We knew we’d reached for filth of wages when that leftover was shepherd’s pie or lentil salad.
The other reason I still bring her lentils is because they are so easy. Easy enough for an ambitious teen to be an easy enough starting point for a busy person who just wants to make sure there’s something healthy on the dinner table, for himself or her family. The recipe that Rosa gave me (which I copied later in my handwriting and pasted into a spiral “recipe book” – this is how I was young and how old I am) called for boiling lentils in a beef broth salad with tarragon vinegar. It would be a long time before I became confident enough to think Maybe I could use another vinegar besides tarragon? And another gravy besides the beef? On these days, lentils are tossed with any vinegar in stock: white balsamic, sherry, red wine, or white wine, and cooked in whatever liquid I have. The other big difference? I spread it more as a main dish than a side dish. All I have to do is add peeled salmon, crushed cooked sausage, or a seven-minute egg, and I have the best kind of dinner: healthy, easy, passionate.
Warm lentil salad
Make 4 sides or 3 main tubes
1 1/2 cups brown lentils
2 1/2 – 3 cups liquid (vegetable broth, chicken broth, beef broth, water, or any combination of them) or enough to cover about an inch of lentils
1 bunch green onion (white and light green chunks), chopped
3 tablespoons chopped sweet pepper, any color, I like red (or more to taste)
Leaves of 4 sprigs of fresh thyme (or a large handful of finely chopped parsley)
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Just under 1/4 cup vinegar (I used to use white balsamic, but you can use tarragon, red wine, and regular balsamic)
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and Pepper
In a medium saucepan, boil the lentils in a broth and water mixture, then reduce the heat and simmer for 12-15 minutes. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the marinade by mixing mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper together. When the lentils are cooked, but still retaining their shape (taste a little to define delicacy), drain in a colander. My heart warm lentils with green onions, peppers, thyme and vinegar.
Additional protein functions: Two cooked links, sweet Italian sausage crumbled or 3/4 pound salmon fillet (baked at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-15 minutes), peeled; Fried eggs or eggs for 7 minutes with chili oil.