I start the year with a plateful of lentils for good luck. It’s an Italian tradition that usually involves cooking the lentils with a hunk of pork in the form of a cotechino, a large pork sausage made with the cotiche or pig skin and shaped like a pig’s foot. I prefer to go lighter, tart and a bit crunchy. Much holiday food is rich, savory and served hot to combat the cooler temperatures outside. So a plate of tender (not soft) little lentils tossed with crunchy vegetables and dressed in a mustardy shallot vinaigrette is a welcome addition to the post holiday table. It’s also a good reminder of how to eat the rest of the year. In fact I made enough to last a week. The mixture of fresh crunchy vegetables, earthly but not mushy lentils and a zippy mustardy shallot vinaigrette can be tossed into lettuce salads or host some shredded chicken or crumbled feta as well as simply eaten on it’s own.
Most of my cooking is a riff on a theme. I use templates rather than recipes at this point. This lentil salad is a perfect case in point and could just as easily been a farro, barley or quinoa salad. Or a bean salad made with Borlotti or Cannellini. Or made with Pardina or Black Beluga lentils instead of the French Green. For a cup of raw lentils I use from one to two cups of mixed crunchy vegetables. This salad was a good opportunity to clean out the crisper drawers. It was enough as a side dish for 6-8 people.
Evan’s Lentil Salad Template
First cook the lentils by following the package directions. These were Timeless French Green Lentils, (an amazing story by the way, chronicled in the book The Lentil Underground by Liz Carlisle). Put the cup of lentils in 3 cups of water, add salt and bring it to a boil. Cook lentils at a simmer until they are tender but not soft. You want them to hold their shape. Drain when cooked and immediately toss them with the dressed vegetables.
1 carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
1 fennel, trimmed and cut into small dice
a few slices of Chinese Green Radish, cut into small dice
6 pea pods worth of fresh peas, uncooked
1/4 cup loosely packed Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Shallot Mustard Vinaigrette
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Whisk or whirr ingredients together. Dress salad to taste. Use the rest (if there is any) for a simple lettuce salad. I make 2 cups at a time and keep it in a canning jar in the fridge.
Don’t worry about following the lentil salad recipe to the letter. Let you palate and your refrigerator pantry be your guide and think crunchy, fresh and seasonal. I could just as easily have used:
onion or shallot
shredded raw beet
sliced sugar snap pea pods