Rich’s mom volunteers at a food pantry a couple of days a week, and we were talking about some of the foodstuffs that were a kind of a hard-sell to their clients; lentils were right up there. “Most folk just don’t know what to do with them”, she said.
That got me to thinking – I’ve had perfectly lovely lentils – as a soup, or along side a nicely prepared bit of duck – at French restaurants, but have never gotten around to making anything with them at home. I think it’s the soup thing.
I like a nice lentil soup, but just a bit of it, at a restaurant, not a cauldron-full that will need to be got through or frozen and forgot in the depths of the freezer. Then I came across this recipe from the late, lamented Gourmet magazine: Lentils (I read somewhere that green were the best tasting, so searched them out in the organics section of my local Woodman’s), spinach, dried cherries, bacon, and blue cheese! What’s not to love?
•3/4 cup green lentils
•7 tbsp red-wine vinegar
•8 bacon slices – I used a whole pack
•1/4 cup olive oil
•1/3 cup finely chopped shallot
•1/4 cup water
•1/2 cup dried unsweetened cherries
•2 tbsp sugar
•3-1/2 cups baby or regular spinach leaves
•1/3 cup blue cheese
Put the lentils in a heavy saucepan and add water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then simmer until just tender, about 15 minutes. You may need to add additional water.
Drain the lentils and run under cold water to stop them from cooking any more, then toss them in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of the red wine vinegar and a bit of salt and pepper. You can do this step up to 2 days ahead and keep the lentils covered in the fridge; just bring them up to room temperature before finishing the salad.
The original recipe calls for cooking the bacon in a skillet, then completing the vinaigrette in a saucepan, which seemed to me to be a lot of bother for a salad, so I opted to make a batch of Maple Roasted Bacon in the oven while I was simmering the lentils, then stashed the drained, cooked bacon goodness in the fridge next to the lentils until it was time to make the salad. If you do this, bring the bacon up to room temperature along with the lentils before proceeding.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat (I added a dab of saved bacon grease) until hot, then cook the shallot, stirring, until nicely browned.
Stir in the water, cherries, remaining red wine vinegar, and the sugar and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by half. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. I also added the bacon at this point. Season the vinaigrette with a bit of salt and pepper, if you think it needs it – since I had added the bacon, mine was fine.
Add the lentils with half of the spinach to the vinaigrette and toss well.
Add the bacon now, if you didn’t earlier, and again taste and add a bit of salt and pepper if you think it needs it.
Now THIS, my friends, is a SALAD.
And, ermmm, now we all know what to do with our lentils.