Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Warm Lentil Salad

Like other legumes, lentils are low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but they have the added advantage of cooking quickly. Lentils have a mild, often earthy flavor, and they're best if cooked with assertive flavorings. The best, most delicate lentils are the peppery French green lentils. These hold their shape well, but take longer to cook than other lentils. The milder brown lentils also hold their shape after cooking, but can easily turn mushy if overcooked. Indian markets also carry a wide variety of split lentils, called dal. Before cooking, always rinse lentils and pick out stones and other debris. Unlike dried beans and peas, there's no need to soak them. Lentils cook more slowly if they're combined with salt or acidic ingredients, so add these last. Bigger or older lentils take longer to cook. Store dried lentils for up to a year in a cool, dry place. (Source)

My new issue of Fine Cooking showed up this weekend and I immediately set about choosing recipes to try. I found two that I thought would pair very well. Here's the first one. Warm French Lentil Salad. It was pretty easy and tasty. I'm surprised I liked it, but I do think it's best warm (more later). I first had lentils about 7-8 years ago, in a lentil soup. I thought I was going to try them and immediately whither into a ball and die...me eating lentils! Are you crazy. But the soup was actually tasty. That was the last time I had them and have been thinking about trying them, but never really got to it...until tonight!

Warm French Lentil Salad with Smoked Sausage
from Fine Cooking

Serves 4-6

The very small, dark greenish brown du Puy lentils (also called French lentils) are firming then brown lentils and hold their shape better during cooking. In France the sausage would be saucisson à l’ail, a semi-cooked smoked garlic sausage. Kielbasa makes a fine substitute.

This classic bistro salad would make a fine first course to a warming winter dinner, but it is also good at the center of a weeknight meal. Just add a loaf of crusty bread and a tangle of lightly dressed mesclun greens for an easy, but satisying supper.

1 ½ cups (10oz.) du Puy lentils (French lentils)
3 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, smashed
¼ tsp. black peppercorns
1 small onion, peeled
1 small carrot, peeled and split lengthwise

8 oz. smoked sausage
1 cup dry white wine
2 ½ TB red wine vinegar (more as needed)

2 tsp Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
3 TB extra-virgin olive oil
3 TB walnut oil

¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
¼ cup finely chopped scallions (3-4 scallions)
Freshly ground black pepper

Pick over and rinse the lentils, and put them in a 3-4 qt. saucepan. Pile the thyme, bay leaves, garlic and peppercorns on a 5 inch square of double layer cheese cloth. Gather up the edges and tie into a little pouch with kitchen twine. Add the pouch to the pan along with the onion and carrot. Fill the pan with cold water to cover the lentils by about 2 inches, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately lower to a gentle simmer—boiling can break the lentils—and simmer, uncovered, until just tender, 30-40 minutes. (If the water level drops below the surface of the lentils as they simmer, add a little more water.)

Meanwhile, put the sausage in a small saucepan or deep skillet. Add the wine and enough water to cover by about ½ inch. Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat as needed to cook at a bare simmer (bubbles should only occasionally break the surface), uncovered, until a metal skewer inserted into the center comes out feeling hot to the touch, 15-20 minutes.

While the lentils and sausage cook, make the vinaigrette: In a medium bowl, whisk 1 ½ TB of vinegar with the mustard and a pinch of salt. In a steady stream, whisk in the olive and walnut oils. Season to taste with salt.

Drain the lentils, discarding the herb pouch, carrot and onion. Transfer to a large bowl and add 1 tsp. salt and the remaining 1 TB vinegar, tossing to coat. Drain the sausage, and if necessary, peel off the casing (bit into a piece first—many sausage casings are thing enough to leave on). Slice into ¼-inch rounds. Add the sausage and vinaigrette to the lentils, tossing to coat. Stir in the parsley and scallions, and season with a generous amount of black pepper, plus more salt and vinegar to taste.

I paired the lentils with Deviled Pork Chops (recipe forthcoming). Great pairs!

So some notes:
1) I didn't peel the carrot, just scrubbed it. Easy.
2) I bought and used Smoked Turkey Keilbasa, instead of a pork sausage. It's precooked, so I sliced it and sauteed/simmered that way, instead of cooking a full length sausage and then slicing. Tasted great and worked well. I only simmered in wine and didn't add water. I let them cook until the wine reduced to a thick syrup and poured it all into the lentils. A little extra flavor profile.
3) I couldn't find walnut oil in the store, so instead of going straight up olive oil, I found and bought a small bottle of grapeseed oil. I couldn't tell a difference, so maybe all olive oil is fine?!?
4) Check the lentils for stones and other bits. I've come across recipes saying you need to pick things over and have never had anything to actually pick out, until the lentils. There were a lot of little stones.
5) I had my first taste, fresh from the stove, these guys were steaming. By the time I plated up, took all the pictures I wanted, the lentils started to cool and by the time I was nearly done, they were nearly cold. I didn't like them as much cold. They were fine, but I liked them warm.
6) Servings. The recipe says this is for 4-6. I think you could easily count this for 6-8.
7) As easy as skipping the kielbasa, you'll have vegetarian lentils. I know it goes without saying, but they would be a very hearty, unique veggie dish.


Chilefire said...

I am certainly open to the idea of cooking with lentils, though I must admit I have not done it in years. I will have to give it another try sometime soon. Lentils are usually my first choice of legume I must admit, but the picture of your dish cetainly looks good!

Dancer in DC said...

YUM! This was once of my favorites. The pork was surprisingly light in taste. But for me the real winner was the lentil salad. They were cooked just right, and you could really taste the depth of flavor in a way you often can't with meat, for example. He's right that they are not as great cold, so perhaps serve them in a covered container, and only plate out a medium-sized serving per person, letting them take more as they coo about how awesome it is!

This meal went really well with a red wine, by the way. We had a favorite called Red Truck.

Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing this technique of cooking lentils. So much nicer than just cooking them plain! I linked to your method from my blog, you should take a look - I made a lentil, beetroot and grapefruit salad! Delicious!!