Monday, December 10, 2007

Mental For Lentils

Have you ever been convinced that you could make something better than someone else? I faced this problem earlier in the week when I convinced myself that even though I've never once had a decent lentil salad, I could make a great one. I mean, I make great lentils, and I make great salad. So, great lentil salad should only be a small leap away, n'est pas? Evidently, I miscalculated the difficulty level of lentil salad. It took a good three rounds of recipe testing for me to come even close to something just north of mediocre.

Okay, let me put this into perspective a bit. Lentils are one of my all time favorite foods, and I eat them almost all year long. Over the summer, I decided that there had to be some cooling way to eat lentils in the hot summer months, so I enthusiastically set out to find a great lentil salad. It soon became clear that there was no great lentil salad out there, so I set forth to make my own. I initially thought that if I kept it simple by adding a few of my favorite veggies and some oil and vinegar I'd be golden. This turned out to be pretty bland and not at all appetizing. Then I thought if I cooked the lentils in a bit of stock, that I'd be adding enough flavor to pep them up. I was wrong.

As always, it took my adding a Spanish twist to really make them pop. I decided to cook the lentils with my favorite veggies in some olive oil with chorizo and a garlic clove. It made sense that this method would work, since both chorizo, garlic, and the paprika in chorizo are flavors in the Spanish style lentil soups and stews that I love. For the dressing I decided to do something a little different from my usual oil and vinegar, and go with a more French style dressing. One of the things that I loved about eating in Paris was that every single bistro, cafe and restaurant had the most amazing dressings and vinaigrettes on their salads. It was always really clean and flavorful, and usually tasted of olive oil, lemon juice and Dijon mustard. So I went with that combination and added in a pinch of cumin for added smokiness. Cumin is also often found in many Mediterranean and middle eastern lentil preparations that I love, so I thought it would match up nicely.

It all worked out pretty well, and the resulting lentil salad was good, but not mind blowing. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since there's probably a reason I haven't heard the words "lentil salad" and "sublime" in the same sentence. I suppose the next time I could try adding something truly sublime like lardo, but I think instead I'll just pair it with something great. I made up such a big helping of the lentil salad that I ate the whole thing myself as an entrée, which I think was a mistake. If I'd paired it with a nice grilled fish, some sautéed shrimp, or even a small steak, I think I would have been thrilled with the results, so I guess I'll just have to make it all over again and report back! Here's how to go about making it if you want to try for yourself:

Warm Lentil Salad With Chorizo

16 oz cooked lentils (I used canned but feel free to make them yourself)
1 chorizo sausage, diced
4 stalks asparagus, blanched and chopped
1 large carrot, diced
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 1/2 Tbsp water

Juice of 1 large lemon (or 1 1/2 small lemons)
3/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp ground cumin
olive oil

1. In a medium sized pan, sauté chorizo, garlic and carrot in olive oil until just browned. Add asparagus, salt and pepper and cook another minute.

2. Add lentils and water and cook until water has evaporated and the mixture is warmed through. Add more salt and pepper if necessary, keeping in mind that you'll be adding the dressing later.

3. Move lentils to a clean dish and allow them to cool slightly in the fridge.

4. Meanwhile, whisk lemon juice, Dijon mustard and cumin in a bowl while slowly drizzling in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. When the lentils have cooled so they're just slightly warm, combine them with the dressing and serve. Enjoy!


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