Friday, April 26, 2013

Lentil Salad with Olives, Feta, and Mint

I'm not gonna lie, when I announced to Paul that we were having "a deliciously healthy lentil salad" for dinner, he looked like I had actually informed him that fried earthworms were on the menu. Lentils are not one of his favorite things. He finds their texture weird and their taste almost tinny.

I personally do not fully comprehend Paul's hatred of lentils. They are excellent sources of healthy protein, folate, and fiber and taste pretty awesome. I have been in the mood for light, fresh, and healthy meals lately and randomly decided to grab a big bag of french lentils while cruising around the grocery store with Matthew and Emma.

"What are these, Mommy?" Matthew asked as I tossed them into the cart.

"Lentils, honey. They are kind of like peas!" I announced cheerfully - because I am really, really trying to sell him on healthier food choices.

But, of course, the inevitable response was: "YUCK. That's gross. Disgusting!"

(Just one of those three adjectives would have sufficiently gotten the message across, but Matthew seems to have a flair for the dramatic).

"Please don't feed me LENTILS, Mom!!!"

I'm guessing he gets both his taste buds and judgmental attitude towards legumes from his father.

However, being the good sport he is, Paul agreed to eat the dreaded lentils (there may or may not have been the promise of ice cream afterwards if he cleaned his plate). And wouldn't you know it?...after his first bite, he announced that the salad was actually good. Quite good! He really enjoyed the fresh flavors and found the texture of the lentils to be enjoyable. He ended up polishing off a second helping.

The key to the texture of the lentils lies in the unique cooking method. First, the lentils are brined for one hour before being gently cooked in a 325 degree oven. The gentle cooking method allows the lentils to soften without falling apart or bloating, lending a pleasant, creamy texture to the salad. The punchy vinaigrette, briny olives, creamy feta, and bright mint all blend together harmoniously to create a delicious, light meal! I will definitely be making this dish again and attempting other variations of lentil salad. I think this dish would also function as an excellent accompaniment to some grilled chicken or fish.

Lentil Salad with Olives, Feta, and Mint
adapted slightly from Cook's Illustrated

Note: Do not use yellow or red lentils here. They are not as sturdy and will completely disintegrate during cooking yielding more of a thick, sludgy soup rather than the toothsome salad we're going for here!

1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
Salt and pepper
6 cups water, divided
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
5 garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
1 bay leaf
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted kalamata olives
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 large shallot, minced
1-2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Place lentils and 1 teaspoon salt in bowl. Cover with 4 cups warm water and soak for 1 hour. Drain well.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Place drained lentils, 2 cups water, broth, garlic, bay leaf, and ½ teaspoon salt in medium saucepan. Cover and bake until lentils are tender but remain intact, about 40-60 minutes (mine took closer to the 60 minute mark). Meanwhile, whisk oil and vinegar together in large bowl.

Drain lentils well. Remove and discard garlic and bay leaf. Add drained lentils, olives, mint, and shallot to dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with feta.

1 comment:

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