Those flat pellet-like members of the legume family that look like a brown pea run over by a car are on nutritionists’ good-for-you-list. I ate my first lentil back in the ‘70s in soup, and thought they were pretty good. Ugly though. And now in 2012 it is easier to find several sorts to pick from, little black ones, orange, reddish, yellow ones, in addition to the khaki-colored numbers I always seem to have around.
So there they are in the pantry and I look at them and think, I ought to do something with those. Some ingredients are like new vocabulary words – I might learn a new word but have a hard time getting it into daily conversation. That’s how it is with lentils. I haven’t quite got the knack of cooking with them.
This weekend, though, I went to a retirement party for my neighbor Nancy Wuori and one of her fellow colleagues at our school, Shar Piper, brought this beautiful lentil salad that tasted very good to me. She shared the recipe and I decided to go home and make one for myself, and I tinkered with it, of course.
I think it was the oranges in it, and currants, with garlic and onion, and a kind of vinaigrette dressing that made it so appealing. Diced red pepper brightened it up, but I really liked the added fruit. Because lentils do not have such a pronounced flavor by themselves, they are susceptible to vegetable or meat additions that boost interest. They are so good cooked with curry or a ham bone. Cheap, too.
Lentils cook quickly, and assembly took no time, really, and the leftovers will serve me for a couple of wholesome lunches. I think this salad is worth playing with: maybe with raw tomatoes and cucumbers chopped up and added instead of fruit. Or how about dried cranberries instead of currants? Toby dropped a spoonful of yogurt onto his serving of the salad, and I tried it, too. Very good.
1 cup dried lentils
½ cup currants
1 small carrot
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ of a small red pepper
1/8 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
fresh parsley, chives minced, optional, to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Rinse and cook lentils for about 20 to 25 minutes so that they are firm but not breaking apart. Drain and put into a bowl. Grate the zest from the orange and add it to the lentils, then peel and chop the orange and add that. Grate the carrots and add. Use the white and only the tenderest green part of the scallions and chop finely and add. Mince the garlic, finely chop the red pepper and add them. Whisk together the lime juice and olive oil and stir into the salad. Add the optional parsley and chives, salt and pepper, and taste and adjust accordingly.
Serves four to six.