Winter Warmer Lentil Salad

A medley of earthy flavors will melt in your mouth

Jan2018_WinterWarmerLentilSalad.jpg

By Anna Herman

A good salad is always greater than the sum of its parts, whether assembled from the freshest garden greens or a thoughtful mixture of leftovers. Salad—from the Latin for salt—is the alchemy of disparate ingredients pulled together with a lively vinaigrette, or some other preferred dressing.  In winter, I’m more than willing to trade the crisp crunch of lettuce for the warmth of wilted greens.

Lentils cook quickly and absorb flavorful vinaigrettes or seasonings, making them a very useful legume. Red, green and brown lentils, which get so soft as to lose shape, are perfect for soups and stews. Black and French lentils (lentilles du Puy) cook quickly, but retain their shape when soft and are best for blending with a grain for a pilaf or featuring in a salad.

Sherry Dijon Vinaigrette:

• 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

• 1/3 cup sherry vinegar

• 1/2 cup fruity olive oil

• 1 clove garlic, very finely minced or
pressed through a garlic press

• 1 teaspoon salt

• Fresh ground black pepper

• 2 to 4 teaspoons minced scallions
and/or parsley (optional)

Add all ingredients to a jar. Close
with a tight-fitting lid and shake well
to emulsify.

Salad:

Serves 4 to 6

• 2 medium beets, trimmed and
washed (or 2 store-bought roasted,
peeled beets)

• 3/4 cup uncooked lentils du Puy
(French green lentils)

• 1 bay leaf

• 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed

• 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

• Salt and pepper as needed

• 3 tablespoons olive oil

• 4 tablespoons minced onion

• 2 to 3 cups sliced mushrooms— any variety or a mixture— the more interesting the better

• 3 heads of frisée, trimmed, washed well and spun dry. Frisée is in the chicory family along with endive and escarole. If frisée is unavailable, feel free to substitute.

• 3 tablespoons toasted walnut pieces

To Assemble:

1. Heat oven, or toaster oven, to 375 degrees. 

2. Wrap beets individually in aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook 25-45 minutes until soft to
the touch when pressed. Larger beets will, of course, take longer to cook.

3. Remove beets from oven and allow to cool, still wrapped.

4. Remove foil. Using a paring knife to assist, slip off the beet skin. Slice into bite-size pieces and toss with 2 tablespoons of the sherry Dijon vinaigrette. If using store-bought roasted beets, cut into pieces, toss with vinaigrette and let beets sit out to room temperature.

5. In a medium saucepan, add the lentils, bay leaf, garlic and thyme, and add enough water to cover by 1/2 inch. Bring to a boil, lower flame to a simmer and cook 10 to 12 minutes until a tested lentil or two are just soft and cooked through. 

6. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir, and let lentils sit on stove as you prepare remainder of salad.

7. In a sauté pan, heat oil until it shimmers over medium heat.  

8. Add the onion and mushrooms, season with salt and fresh pepper, and stir often until mushrooms and onion wilt and caramelize.

9. Add the frisée on top of the mushrooms, put a top on the pan, and let frisée wilt for 2 to 5 minutes, depending on how tender the frisée was to start with. If substituting Belgian endive, do not wilt. If substituting escarole, let cook for up to 6 minutes until well softened.

10. Drain lentils, remove smashed garlic and bay leaf, and toss with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette.

To Serve:

Remove frisée from the pan and use it to line the bottom of a serving plate or platter. Add 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette to the mushrooms remaining in the pan and mix well. Spoon lentils in the center of the frisée-lined plate. Arrange mushrooms and beets on top. Sprinkle with walnuts. Drizzle any remaining vinaigrette on top to taste.

Turn this into a complete meal with a hunk of hard cheese or breaded baked goat cheese
and a crusty bread. A mug of beer or hard cider wouldn’t be amiss.