Jan 26 2011

On Lentils and Other Important Things

Published by Christine at 12:01 pm under Vegetarian

My friend Sheryl moved to California last August. We celebrated her decision to climb the corporate ladder a few rungs in true girlfriend fashion, along with Jaye (the other member of our triumvirate), with champagne and tissues. It’s never easy to part with people who mean a lot to you, even if it’s not as though she moved to Mars (she might beg to differ–this is Southern California we’re talking about after all ;) ). For more than a decade now, these are women with whom I have celebrated life, through thick and thin. I have the most wonderful memories of our times together, that run the gamut from help and support through difficult decision-making to roll-on-the-floor laughing sessions–you know the kind that leave you unable to breathe? Those. The gatherings at her house were also memorable, full of wonderful people and fantastic food (the woman can cook too); one particular martini party does come to mind, the details of which are best left unmentioned, for the sake of all participants.


One is enough. Now, I know.


Anyhow (*clears throat*). Sheryl came back for a week-long visit last Christmas, and we got to spend some time together, which was a treat. While she was here, I organized a little get together at my house for the few of us girls, but I did not want us to have a real sit-down dinner. I wanted something really informal, a little buffet that would lend itself well to sitting in the living room with champagne (again, I know) and plates on the coffee table and just talk, talk, talk. That’s just what we did, and it was great.

For the occasion, I made some simple, healthful, savory foods, the kind that you can keep eating for a long time without feeling too full. It was a welcome respite from all the holiday eating. Vegetable soup, bruschetta (diced tomatoes, crushed garlic, basil chiffonade, extra virgin olive oil) served on toasted ciabatta, and lentil salad were all on the menu that evening. I’ll give you the recipe for that soup some other time; today I want to focus on the lentil salad, because truth be told, it has to be one of the best things anyone can eat. It’s not only good for you, it’s flavorful and satisfying in the extreme. I’m salivating as I write this, which makes it difficult to type pwopely propely well.

Those of you who only know lentils as the sad looking things they sell in plastic bags at the supermarket may only have experienced them as brown mush, which is what most lentils sold in the U.S. will turn into once cooked. They taste fine and definitely have a place in a number of recipes, but for salad, you need something that can hold its shape and stand up to dressing. This is where French green lentils come in. Specifically, lentilles du Puy, which are grown in the area of Le Puy-en-Velay, in the Haute Loire region of France. If you’ve never eaten them, your life is about to change, because they’re nothing like what you’ve eaten before. Now, if you can’t find lentilles du Puy at the supermarket (quite probable), you can either order them online, or else use regular French green lentils, which are much more widely available. While not as tasty as the ones from Le Puy, they will do just fine in this recipe, provided you season them well.


Les lentilles du Puy


I like using extra virgin walnut oil in my dressing for the salad, but I have a confession to make: the oil I use is not available here. My father brings it to me when he comes to visit, which makes him a saintly man in the eyes of my family and friends, who obviously know a good thing when they see one. The folks who make it, the Lépines from Availles-en-Chatellerault (in the Poitou region), are lovely people who truly care about what they do, and their family has been in this business for over 200 years. One of my aunts used to go to school with the current owner, but family ties notwithstanding, they happen to produce the most fragrant oil I have ever tasted.


The best walnut oil in the world


The lentil salad recipe that follows is quite traditional, and calls for shallots and parsley as well as goat cheese (fromage de chèvre, another staple of Poitou). Alice Waters calls for olive oil in her recipe, which substitutes quite well for walnut oil, should you not be able to find one that is fragrant enough; it is truly best to use a good extra virgin olive oil here than a walnut oil of mediocre quality. The olive oil they produce in California is top-shelf stuff, and worthy of those lentils. So Sheryl, while you’re still there and have easy access to that liquid gold, why not give this recipe a try? And when you finally come back East (*jumping for joy*), I’ll take you out for a cosmo. One. Well, maybe two.


Salade de Lentilles au Chèvre

1 cup green lentils, cooked in 3 cups salted water or broth for about 30 mn or until tender, drained and rinsed
1.5 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp walnut or olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

While the lentils are still warm, season with the vinegar, shallot and some freshly ground black pepper. Let sit for a few minutes, then add the oil and parsley. Mix well. Adjust seasoning to taste (you might need a little more vinegar and/or salt). Sprinkle goat cheese on top, and let sit for a couple of hours, letting the flavors blend. Serve cold or room temperature.


Ready to eat, and eat, and eat.


Wine pairing: Sauvignon Blanc
Song pairing: Vintage James Taylor


6 responses so far

6 Responses to “On Lentils and Other Important Things”

  1. Sherylon 26 Jan 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I must say I felt like the very luckiest recipient to take part in everything christine made that evening – I will admit to going for seconds! I’ve always admired christine’s use of fresh and flavorful ingredients and the way she can put a cake together without measuring while having a conversation – AMAZING!

    By the way Christine, i made your butternut squash soup this past weekend for friends and they LOVED it. Can you tell me what you did that one time for a side to swirl into the soup? I think you did sour cream and blended with either roasted red peppers or sun dried tomatoes?


  2. Christineon 26 Jan 2011 at 5:15 pm

    My pleasure. And in the soup, the add-on was a purée of roasted red peppers: just char the peppers under the broiler or on a flame (if you have a gas stove), remove the skin and seeds, and purée in a blender with a little bit of heavy cream, salt and pepper. Simple.

  3. Maryon 26 Jan 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I love this salad, I love that walnut oil and I love having a friend who shares these things.

  4. Debon 26 Jan 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Great evening and great buffet! Hi Sheryl!!! :)

  5. Christineon 26 Jan 2011 at 7:56 pm

    I’m lucky to have such great friends!

  6. jeanon 09 Apr 2011 at 6:49 pm

    just looked up the recipe for the lentil salad- looks great, sorry I missed the gathering in December

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