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:
  1. 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.
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