Sunday, June 2, 2013

Warm French Lentil Salad

The French Le Puy lentil is my favorite variety of lentils I've tried. They are more petite and firmer than the others I've had, mainly in Middle Eastern cooking. They hold their shape wonderfully, and cook up pretty quickly, with hardly any prepping. Yet it is always important to pick over any type of lentil you're using to ensure there are no rocks or unfavorable bits before adding them to a pot. That is the only slightly laborious part of this recipe. 
I've adapted this from Ina Garten's recipe, and definitely took a bit of caution when preparing it for the first time since her original instructions call for an abhorrent amount of salt. Other than adjusting the mustardy dressing for the lentils as well as the cooking time for the carrots and leeks, that was about as far as the tweaking went. The simple brilliance of this dish is the cooking of the lentils. Some of the ingredients I was a bit hesitant on using together, actually combine so amicably with each other. An onion studded with cloves? Turnip? Definitely. They cannot be omitted or substituted - they are the key to this dish's unique and subtle flavors.
While draining the lentils, you will be comfortably swathed in the warm spicy steam that is gently scented with clove and onion. The turnip is removed after cooking as well, and is one of those ingredients that I don't think I can truly identify in this dish, yet would certainly know if it was missing. The dijon laden dressing works so well with the lentils - its really kind of extraordinary. I've never actually served this as a side dish, even though I realize they are intended to be. They've never made it that far. I usually share half the batch with my daughter on the first day, and finish it off the next. When I develop a taste for this dish, I can't be satisfied with any thing else, so why try? Yet I suspect it would be amazing with a simple roast chicken, or firm fish. Or just with some crusty bread.


1 cup Le Puy lentils, picked over
1 leek, cleaned well with dark green bit removed.
   1/4 inch slices
1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled. Quarter then cut  
   into 1/4 inch slices
1 small to medium onion, kept whole and peeled, 
   and stuck with 5 whole cloves
1 small to medium turnip, peeled and halved
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced fine
1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter (optional)
~1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus a good glug
   for the pan
~1 generous Tbsp good dijon mustard
~2 healthy pinches salt
several turns of the pepper mill
2 - 5 tsp red wine vinegar (or 1 to 3 good splashes)

the measurements for the dressing are just a guideline - you may prefer more or less of any of the ingredients. I've never made it the same way twice, since tastes occasionally vary.

Place the lentils, clove studded onion, and turnip into a medium sauce pan. Cover with cold water (the amount varies as does the size of pans - roughly 4 cups should usually do it).
Place over medium high heat and bring to a strong simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes. It doesn't hurt to check your lentils a bit before the suggested time, since the cooking time for them is always slightly different. They should be tender, yet firm.

Meanwhile, add a glug of oil to a medium skillet and saute the leek and carrot over medium heat till softened, about 15 - 18 minutes. About a minute before shutting off the heat, add the minced garlic and ensure it is thoroughly combined with the vegetables. 

Place the dollop of dijon in the bowl you plan on serving the lentils. Add the salt, pepper, and vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking vigorously. Adjust ingredients to taste if needed. 

Once the lentils are done, remove the onion and turnip. Drain well. Add the lentils, carrots and leek to the bowl, along with the pat of butter if you like a little extra richness. Stir till all ingredients are well combined. This dish is best served immediately, or warm.

recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa's How Easy is That? 2010

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