Pretty Salad from Homely Lentils

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.

Pretty lentil salad

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.

Lentil Salad
1 cup dried lentils
1 orange
½ cup currants
1 small carrot
4 scallions
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.

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About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.