Lentils are an important a staple in other cultures around the world, but I feel like they get a bad rap stateside. Many Americans deem lentils mushy, brown, unappealing and overly healthy..."hippie" food basically. I'm here to advocate for the humble lentil! They are delicious, budget friendly and really nutritious. However, they need to be prepared with care and awareness. While readily available brown and green lentils are tasty in stews and veggie burgers, you should consider exploring this petite legume's colorful cousins. Red and yellow lentils are perfectly suited to Indian daals and curries. Black lentils, also called "beluga" because they resemble caviar, pack an added flavor punch in both soups and salads. For this simple dish, however, it's all about French lentils, or lentilles du puy. They have thicker skin than brown lentils which means they don't turn into mush when cooked- they only take 22 minutes or so to reach optimal tenderness. They're also a beautiful slate green color and look gorgeous in a bowl studded with colorful vegetables and herbs. You can adapt this salad to fit any season and/or mood. Add additional herbs if you have a lot of something growing in your garden. Nix the bacon if you're looking for a vegetarian course. Throw in some spinach, cherry tomatoes, crumbled goat cheese, or toasted nuts... go wild! This recipe is so versatile! Of course, the classic pairing for these lentils is a perfectly cooked piece of salmon, but serve it alongside anything you like. Reheat the leftovers and nestle a fried egg on top- maybe some wilted greens and sliced avocado on the side...mmm protein bowl heaven!
*prep time: 15 min. *cook time: 35 min. *serves 4-6 as a side dish
1 cup lentilles du puy, or French green lentils
1 bay leaf
1 lightly crushed garlic clove
1 sprig Italian parsley, plus 2 tbsp chopped
3 oz diced bacon (about 3 strips)
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 large celery stalk, finely diced
1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes (optional)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Place the lentils, bay leaf, garlic clove and parsley sprig in a medium pot. Fill with enough water to cover lentils by a few inches and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer lentils on low 20-22 minutes, until al dente but not mushy. Strain the lentils in a fine colander and discard the aromatics. Wipe out the pot.
Make the vinaigrette by combining the mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in the bottom of a medium sized serving bowl. Whisk in the olive oil slowly to emulsify. Add the warm lentils to the bowl with the vinaigrette, toss to coat and check for seasoning.
Return the lentil pot to the stove over medium heat. Add the bacon to the pot with 1 tsp olive oil and cook until it's beginning to brown and has rendered some fat, 3-4 minutes. Remove the bacon to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. Add the carrot, celery and shallot to the pot with the bacon fat, season everything with a pinch of salt, and cook until the veggies are soft and lightly brown, 5-7 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the bowl with the lentils. Add the parsley, dill, 3/4 of the cooked bacon, and the tomatoes (if using) to the salad and toss to mix everything together. Check again for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Garnish the salad with the remaining bacon and a sprinkle of chopped dill. Serve warm or at room temperature.