Lentil Salad for all Seasons

Lentil Salad for all Seasons – Light yet filling and endlessly adaptable, this protein-rich lentil salad will delight plant-based eaters and meat lovers alike!

Lentil Salad for all Seasons – Light yet filling and endlessly adaptable, this protein-rich lentil salad will delight plant-based eaters and meat lovers alike!

 

As summer fades and we trade flip-flops for fleece jackets, the items on our weekly grocery list begin to change too.

During these waning days of summer, I try to resist the pull of hearty stews and all things pumpkin and instead savor the last of the vine-ripened tomatoes and nourishing salads just a little bit longer.

Seasonal ingredients ensure fresh variety in our daily diets but are often longed for in the offseason.  Some recipes, however, serve as a flexible framework with ingredients that can be handily swapped in and out with the passing months.

A foundation of hearty yet healthy and highly adaptable recipes (ideally with a make-ahead component) has the power to keep us on the right track – even as we anticipate big bowls of cheesy chili and and a few too many holiday cookies.

Chances are good that your crisper drawer will yield sufficient options to bolster the base of the following salad any month of the year.  Conveniently, the dish can be prepared in advance and served over the coming week. It shines as a complete vegetarian or vegan meal, a packable lunch, or a protein-rich side dish to a fillet of salmon, a simple salad, or your favorite turkey burger.

Lentil Salad for all Seasons – Light yet filling and endlessly adaptable, this protein-rich lentil salad will delight plant-based eaters and meat lovers alike!

The basic recipe is one that I’ve enjoyed many times over the years.  More recently, a friend in the early stages of a weight-loss journey inspired several variations.

Notably, my friend had never cared for lentils but knew they were good for her.  How might she prepare them, she asked, so they’d actually taste good?

Compared to other types of dried beans, lentils are relatively quick and easy to prepare.  (They also happen to be inexpensive, high in nutritional value, and available year-round.)

Lentils readily absorb a variety of flavors from other foods and seasonings.  Warm lentils, in particular, quickly absorb flavor, so I like to drizzle them with a portion of the vinaigrette as soon as they’ve been well drained.  The optional addition of rice adds a familiar ingredient for those who may be new to eating lentils.

Lentil Salad for all Seasons – Light yet filling and endlessly adaptable, this protein-rich lentil salad will delight plant-based eaters and meat lovers alike!

Beyond the seasonal modifications, a variety of optional toppings provides flavor, texture, and visual appeal.  Tomatoes and cucumbers supply fresh, summery flare, although add-ins like bell peppers and carrots do hold up better when refrigerated over several days.  I particularly enjoy stirring in a handful of arugula or baby spinach and topping with a generous sprinkle of crunchy pepitas or sunflower seeds and creamy chopped avocado.

After trying this salad for the first time, my non-lentil-liking friend reported that she was a new fan.  She took home leftovers and soon made her own batch to enjoy with her family.  Like so many of us, she’s often famished after a long workday, so she likes that she can prepare this over the weekend and dish it out as needed.

Lentil Salad for all Seasons – Light yet filling and endlessly adaptable, this protein-rich lentil salad will delight plant-based eaters and meat lovers alike!

The following recipe provides a flexible framework to accommodate personal preferences as well as cold weather and warm weather variations.

Lentil Salad for all Seasons – Light yet filling and endlessly adaptable, this protein-rich lentil salad will delight plant-based eaters and meat lovers alike!

Lentil Salad for all Seasons
Yield: approximately 7 cups or 6-8 servings
Cooking the lentils in salted water means they go into the salad with a little extra flavor.  If you have the inclination, you could also add a couple of garlic cloves, a sprig or two of fresh thyme, and/or a bay leaf to the cooking water. In this case, discard these aromatics once the lentils are cooked.
For the lentils:
  • 1 cup brown lentils (could substitute green or black*)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 cups water
For the salad:
  • 1 cup cooked rice (I like long grain brown; leftovers are fine; could use white or even cooked quinoa**)
  • 2 stalks celery OR 1/2 a medium cucumber (seeded), finely diced
  • 2 finely diced carrots OR 1 seeded and chopped tomato or 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced OR yellow and orange peppers provide a colorful option when available
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion OR 2 thinly sliced scallions
  • 1 cup baby spinach or arugula OR 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or more to taste; roughly chop if leaves are large)
  • Awesome add-ins & toppings: 1/2-3/4 cup crumbled feta; 1 chopped avocado; handful of pitted and chopped kalamata olives; 1/3 cup salted or roasted sunflower seeds and/or pepitas…or chopped almonds, walnuts, etc.
For the vinaigrette
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt, smoked or regular paprika, and sugar or honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon each garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper
Instructions:

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients.  Or add everything to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well. Vinaigrette can be made a day or so in advance and refrigerated.

Add 4 cups water to a medium pot, bring to a boil, and then add the 2 teaspoons salt and lentils.  Return to a boil, give the lentils a stir, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 15-25 minutes. (See notes below.)  Drain immediately and transfer to a large bowl.  Drizzle a little of the vinaigrette over the warm lentils as they will absorb a little extra flavor when warm.  (If you are cooking fresh rice for this recipe, you can do the same with the warm rice.)

Stir in the rice, celery or cucumber, carrots, bell pepper, onions or scallions, and parsley if using. If using the optional feta or olives, you may add them now, too.  Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette and gently toss to combine.  At this point, the salad can be covered and refrigerated for several hours.

When ready to serve, top the salad with tomatoes, greens of choice, avocado, and nuts or seeds as desired. Enjoy!

Notes:

*Cooking time will vary depending on type of lentil chosen, age of lentils, and precise level of heat. Start tasting regularly after 15 minutes to ensure perfectly cooked, intact, and mush-free lentils.  Also note that red and yellow lentils will cook in less than 15 minutes.  Those varieties are best suited for use in soups and stews.

**You may omit the rice and cook an additional 1/2 cup of the dry lentils.  When cooking 1-1/2 cups of lentils, start with 6 cups water and 1 tablespoon kosher salt.

Tips:

  • Keeping the size of the vegetable dice consistently small contributes a uniform texture that I find appealing in a lentil salad.
  • For the main vegetables, I aim for 3/4 to 1 cup of each.
  • I like to pile on the more tender toppings like tomatoes, avocados, and greens, creating an upside down salad effect. Using these more perishable veggies as a topping guarantees fresher leftovers, too. Similarly, a last-minute addition of nuts and seeds ensures optimal crunch.
The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/

Lentil Salad for all Seasons – Light yet filling and endlessly adaptable, this protein-rich lentil salad will delight plant-based eaters and meat lovers alike!

Lentil Salad for all Seasons – Light yet filling and endlessly adaptable, this protein-rich lentil salad will delight plant-based eaters and meat lovers alike!

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