In the summer, it’s handy to have a stock of salad recipes to make for barbecues, potlucks or quick meals. If the forecast shows a hot week ahead, I make up a salad or two to have for lunches or dinners so I don’t have to heat up the house with cooking. This lentil salad is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a good accompaniment to chicken, burgers, lamb kebabs, fish, really anything you may be grilling on a summer day, and it’s great on its own, too. I’ve adapted the recipe from Jose Andres, specifically from his wonderful book, Made in Spain. A few years ago, I visited my best friend in Virginia and we had a wonderful, memorable lunch at Zaytinya, one of Andres’ restaurants in Washington, DC. We sat on a patio near a big grill with a spit-roasting goat and ate the best shrimp I have ever tasted in my life, plus hummus, flatbread, vegetable-heavy pasta and more, with pomegranate cocktails in hand and smiles on our faces. I have been enchanted with Andres’ books and recipes ever since that day. This is the recipe of his I go back to more than any other.
The beauty of this salad, in comparison to one made with potatoes or pasta, is that you get the benefits of protein- and fiber-rich lentils in roughly the same cook time. It’s gluten-free, if you’ll be making it for a large group with different dietary restrictions, and mayonnaise-free, which is great for an outdoor meal on a warm day. It can easily become vegan– just leave the cheese out altogether– and it makes a lovely meal in a bowl with the addition of grilled chicken or fish. The vegetable components are flexible: if I have cucumber, in it goes, and the same is true with fresh green beans, cherry tomatoes, green pepper, scallions and peas. Any vegetable you enjoy fresh or lightly blanched will probably work well here. The ingredient quantities can be easily doubled, which you may want to do if you’re feeding a crowd.
Cost-effective, quick to make, crowd-pleasing fresh, hearty, delicious– these are all descriptions I like to hear when I’m looking for a recipe to try, and they all apply to this summer lentil salad.
Summer Lentil Salad (adapted from Made in Spain)
- 1 c. dried French lentils (the little, dark green ones)
- 1/2 yellow onion
- 4-6 cloves garlic, whole*
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 tsp. salt
- 4 c. water
- 1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 3 T. olive oil
- 2 T. sherry vinegar (I like this one)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 T. minced chives
- 2 oz. crumbled blue cheese or feta, optional (I like the Amish blue from Salemville)
Rinse and drain your dry lentils, checking them for any debris. (You don’t need to soak them at all.) Transfer to a large pot and add the onion (left in one piece, since you’ll need to fish it out later), garlic cloves, bay leaf, 2 T. olive oil, 1 tsp. salt and water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 mins. Test a few lentils for doneness by cooling and tasting them; when you like how tender they are, they are done. Drain the lentils, *reserving the cooking liquid*, and put them in a large bowl. Add a few tablespoons of cooking liquid to the lentils so they stay moist; discard the onion, garlic and bay leaf.
Return the reserved cooking liquid to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and alllow the liquid to reduce, watching it very carefully so it doesn’t burn and you don’t lose too much, until you have about 1/2 c. left. Remove from the heat and cool at room temperature for about 30 mins. (This is when I chop my vegetables.) When cool, add 3 T. olive oil, sherry vinegar and 1 tsp. salt to the cooking liquid and whisk to combine.
Add your chopped bell pepper and minced shallot (as well as any other vegetables you plan to include, up to about 2 c. extra) to the bowl of lentils and drizzle with the dressing. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until needed; if refrigerated, bring the salad to room temperature before serving for the best flavor. Serve garnished with chives and blue or feta cheese, if you like. This lentil salad will keep in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.
*I put my whole, peeled garlic cloves on a cutting board and smash them lightly with the side of a knife. This breaks them open, which seems to help flavor the lentils, but leaves the cloves intact enough to remove easily when you need to do so.