April 21, 2010

Lentil Salad

I didn't used to be a huge lentil fan. (Dal is another matter entirely.) Like many people, I thought they were boring and bland. But then, while I was living in Rome, I had a revelation one night at a restaurant.

It came in the form of lentils with cotechino, that quintessentially Italian winter dish of lentils and sausage. The unctuous cotechino sausage had deeply flavored the lentils with its fat, and the result was tiny orbs of rich, slightly creamy, deliciousness.

I was hooked. But, like many new converts, I had some caveats that continue to this day. I only like small lentils, like the Italian or the French "Le Puy" style lentils, except in soup.

Then, at Kalustyan's, an overpriced but fabulously stocked store in Manhattan's Little India, I discovered beluga lentils. Tiny and black, their name comes from their resemblance to caviar. Unlike other lentils that often turn slighly mushy when cooked, these stay firm and whole. Perfect for salads.

These days, I cheat and buy beluga lentils already cooked in a vacuum-sealed bag from Trader Joe's. They're one of my pantry staples, as it takes about five minutes to whip up a delicious salad with them. The one above has diced yellow pepper in it, and you could add all sorts of things like garlic and feta cheese and olives and capers and tomatoes, but honestly I prefer the salad very plain--as simple as possible. Do use the best olive oil you have, though, and don't be skimpy with it. You want them nicely glossed.

Lentils are another great thing to cook in the pressure cooker--like most legumes done in the pressure cooker, they come out cooked but firm, not mushy. (Have I mentioned how much I love my pressure cooker?)

Do make this salad. It's the kind of thing you bring to a pot luck or a party and everyone wants to know how you made it. I always fess up about how easy it is, but you are welcome to keep the secret to yourself.

Lentil Salad
2 cups cooked beluga or Le Puy lentils (If you don't have a pressure cooker and aren't buying the lentils already cooked, watch carefully to make sure they don't overcook and turn mushy. You want them to be cooked but firm and separate.)
About a half a bunch of chopped flat-leaf parlsey
Olive oil
Vinegar (I use an orange vinegar)
Salt and pepper
Toss lentils with enough olive oil to make them look glossy. Toss in chopped parsley. Add vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Let sit for at least an hour, or overnight in fridge. Serve.

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