The winter rut has been hitting hard over the last few weeks. You can eat only so much kale, roast, and potatoes before you start longing for plums, or a peach, or a tomato. But good luck finding plums or peaches that aren’t tasteless balls of concrete or a tomato that has more flavor than the box it came in.
Last Saturday, then, I found myself roaming the aisles of Whole Foods for novel fare, carefully adding up each item as I placed it in my basket, trying desperately not to exceed our miserly monthly food budget with the purchase of a fillet of fish or a single Meyer lemon.
In the spirit of cash-strapped shoppers everywhere, I trotted over to the rice and beans in the bulk aisle. There, after buying some arborio rice at $2.49 a pound, I found these lovely little French lentils (also $2.49 a pound). Feeling wildly indulgent, I poured two pounds of each item into an ecologically disastrous plastic bag (happily noting the irony that I’d brought a canvas bag to carry home my groceries).
These French lentils were a joy to prepare and eat. Not only do they look like tiny pebbles, but they also hold their shape nicely when cooked–making them ideal for salads when other lentils can be easily overcooked and fall apart (much like I did when I realized that I’d managed to blow ten bucks on rice and beans). They also have a nuttier flavor than other lentils, so they require very little seasoning to add a little culinary spark to a dish.
I cooked two cups to start, pulled out a cup or so partway through the process to make a salad and letting the rest simmer a little longer to soften them for a soup. The salad turned out to be the perfect winter meal–hearty enough to satisfy on a cold day but offering a welcome hint of summer.
French Lentil Salad
Note: Adjust amounts as needed to suit your taste; I feel silly offering a recipe for salad in the first place. These portions will serve 2 as a meal.
1 cup French lentils
3 cups water, and more as needed
4 mushrooms, sliced
2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
Sort and rinse lentils. In a medium saucepan, bring lentils, about 1 tsp. salt, and water to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and cook 20 – 25 minutes, until lentils just become soft. Drain lentils and rinse in cold water for a few seconds, until they are warm but no longer hot. Allow lentils to continue draining while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Toss spinach, olive oil, and kosher salt to taste in a large bowl. Slice mushrooms and add to salad, then lentils. Place in serving bowls and top with more salt, if desired, and fresh ground black pepper.