what’s in that lentil salad?

My friend Ruth and I have been part of the Women’s Group for about twenty years now. We’ve been meeting about once a month to discuss things as varied as Women and Judaism, Favorite Recipes and Forensic Investigative Techniques. I can’t remember if we’ve actually discussed Tupperware. We did have Elizabeth Gilbert come and read one evening. And most of our evenings end with a George Clooney-a-thon.

We’re an ever changing group of about 12 women, living in Rome. One of our common languages is English. The other is food. I have to say that while we come from all walks of life, we are all pretty good cooks and love to eat. In fact, eating is one of the reasons we get together. (Besides discussing George Clooney that is) One person presents and one hosts and in charge of food.

Which brings me to the Lentil Salad. Almost from the very beginning, Ruth and I have been making lentil salad. And, invariably, when we make the salad, Claudia asks “What is in this Lentil Salad?” Everytime. For twenty years.

The thing is there really isn’t a recipe. I think originally I started out with a Silver Palette recipe for Crunchy Lentil Salad. I can’t speak for Ruth. But that was just a starting point. Every time Ruth or I make it lentils are only the main ingredient. After that, anything is fair game.

I have to admit that I’ve been missing in action for the last year or so at Women’s Group. My last book, then getting the apps written and the blog going made getting away in the evenings hard. Yet I do plan on coming more often this coming year. Promise.

Feelng nostalgic I made Lentil Salad the other evening. I’d actually never made it to eat at home. It was always something I brought to the Group. But I had a gorgeous box of Lentilles Verts du Puy I had brought back from France. Since it was way too hot to think about soup – or any other wintery lentil thingy for that matter – I realized that I could actually make lentil salad to eat at home. Duh.

So. The ‘recipe.’ The constants are to use good lentils and cook them till just tender. Some of them may even be under cooked. The important thing is to not let them get mushy. There’s nothing worse than a bowl full of mushy lentil salad. So while cooking your lentils, keep a watch on them, and keep tasting as they cook.

I like the vegetables to provide both color and crunch. So I end up using things like celery, peppers and carrots. I avoid tomatoes, since they just add to the mush factor.

To make it more ‘meal’ like, I usually add some sort of cheese. Feta if I have it. This time around I used haloumi, which Sophie had brought back from London. Try to use a cheese that is salty and tangy, and a bit firm.

I almost always use balsamic vinegar in this salad, since I like the strong sweet/sour thing with the earthy lentils. But since I was out of it, I substituted Pomegranate Molasses, which served the same purpose, even better.

Feel free to mess around with your own versions. Ruth and I always do. But at least now, when Claudia asks us “What’s in the Lentil Salad?” we’ll be able to hand her this recipe.

Lentil Salad

(serves 6-8)

1 pound lentils
1 yellow pepper
3 stalks celery
1 large red onion
1 cup mint leaves
salt, pepper
1 cup cubed haloumi cheese

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons red currant vinegar
1 tsp salt
lots of freshly ground pepper

Rinse and cook lentils in salted water until just tender. This can take anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes. Keep checking on the lentils to avoid overcooking.

While lentils are cooking chop the vegetables into small pieces, and place in serving bowl.

Make dressing by whisking together the dressing ingredients. Taste and adjust. You want it to be tart and sweet.

Once lentils are done, drain and place in bowl with the vegetables while lentils are still warm. Toss. Add dressing and toss well. Add mint leaves and haloumi cheese and toss again.

Serve at room temperature. It’s even better if you let it sit overnight in the fridge. But make sure you take it out and let it come back to room temp before serving.

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  1. says

    What would women’s group be without Claudia asking what’s in the lentil salad? My favourite recipe comes from the Frog Commissary cookbook by Steven Poses – the best cookbook in the world. It’s lentils, currants, capers, red onions and a curry vinaigrette. The dressing has 15 ingredients! Sometimes (to confuse Claudia), I switch to something simpler with feta or goat cheese, lentils, sun-dried tomatoes (dry, not sott’olio) and a mustardy garlicky dressing.

  2. Anonymous says

    Sounds smart, flexible, & wonderful. Talking about George Clooney would only be gliding the lilly-
    Thanks so much,

  3. says

    Very timely post. Last night I braised a package of French green lentils and have been wondering how to use those we did not eat warm with our fish. I even have a piece of Ricotta Salata! Meant to be!!

  4. Anonymous says

    The salad looks delicious, but what I really want to know is where that beautiful serving dish came from?

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