Wednesday, August 06, 2008

French Lentil Salad: Salade de Lentilles

Although it's mid-summer, I'm offering a salad based on a dry legume, lentils. I've been in a lentil mood recently -- as can be seen in several recent recipes on the blog -- and I'm attracted to them because of their economy, in this economic downturn, but also because of their subtly delightful taste and their nutritiousness.

This French salad (sah-'lahd d' lawn-'tee), which was traditionally made in winter when fresh vegetables were scarce, tastes fresh and tangy enough for eating at any time. However, the more modern recipe presented here actually has several fresh summer vegetables to give both color and summer taste. The color of the garnishes makes this dish suitable for buffets, especially at Christmas, but bright enough for any occasion. Lentil salad can serve as a side dish, or it can be offered as an appetizer course on its own if spooned onto lettuce leaves. It even can be spooned onto sliced baguette for hors d'oevres. The recipe serves six or more.

French Lentil Salad Tim

1/2 pound (1 cup) dry tan or green lentils
1 small bay leaf
1 medium clove of garlic, bruised
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
3 tablespoons wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large scallion (green onion), or 2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons chopped roasted red pepper or pimento (optional)
2 small-medium tomatoes or 1 cup grape tomatoes
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 extra tomato or grape tomatoes plus sprigs of parsley for garnish

Pick over the lentils and discard any foreign matter. Soak the lentils in plenty of boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain them well. Place lentils in a pot, add fresh water to just cover the lentils, and return to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Skim off any foam that rises. Stir in the bay leaf, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper. Simmer, uncovered, just at the edge of a boil, stirring gently from time to time and adding a little water, if needed, to keep the water level at the surface of the lentils. Cook just until just tender (15-20 minutes, depending on the lentil type used), testing a few lentils by biting them. Drain the lentils in a colander (the juice can be used in soups or stews, if you wish), shaking them gently. Transfer them to a large bowl to cool, and stir them gently from time to time. Remove the bay leaf and garlic.

Gently stir in the vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil, about 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. If using scallion, cut it in thirds, line up the pieces and slice them very thinly, including the green parts; or use finely minced onion. Stir the scallion or onion plus the roasted pepper or pimento, if used, into the lentils. Allow the mixture to sit at least ten minutes. The salad is best if refrigerated 8 hours or more. Stir again, and taste. Add vinegar or lemon juice if not tangy enough, and add salt if necessary.

Shortly before serving, cut the tomatoes into small pieces and chop the parsley and stir both ingredients in, along with a little salt for the tomato. Serve in a low bowl or heaped up on a platter. Garnish with slices of the additional tomato, or halves of the grape tomatoes, and sprigs of parsley.

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