Thursday, April 10, 2014

Recipe of the week: Warm Lentil Salad

Lentils have been a part of the human diet since the aceramic neolithic times, being one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East.  Archaeologists evidence shows they were eaten 9,500 to 13,000 years ago.  Lentils range in colors from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and even black.  They also vary in size and are sold in many forms, with our without skins, whole or split.

Seeds require a cooking time of 10-40 minutes, depending on the variety.  Lentil recipes are used throughout South Asia, the Mediterraneans regions and West Asia.

If I was opening a restaurant, this would be one of my signatures dishes.  I discovered it while watching an episode of Guy's Big Bite a few weeks ago and made a few modifications after I made it last week.  This pairs nicely with a grilled piece of salmon, but it could easily be served standing alone or with grilled chicken thighs.


Warm Lentil Salad with Squash and Yogurt Vinaigrette 

 slightly adapted from Guy's Big Bite



1 large acorn or butternut squash, halved and seeded
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups green lentils
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 medium garlic clove, smashed
1/2 small lemon, quartered
1 bay leaf
pinch red pepper flakes

Caramelized Onions: 

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, halved then sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
salt and pepper

Yogurt Vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1-2 fresh mint leaves, chopped
1-2 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
salt and pepper


For the salad:  Preheat oven to 375.  Cut the squash into 2 inch thick wedges, leaving skins intact.  Add to a bowl and toss with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the thyme and salt and pepper.  Transfer to a large baking sheet.  Roast the squash until fork tender, 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven to cool.

Add 1 cup wine and 2 cups water, lentils, onion, garlic, lemon, bay leaf, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to a medium sized stock pot.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until tender, 20-25 minutes.  Remove from the heat and drain, discarding the bay leaf and lemon.  Put the lentils in a large mixing bowl and toss with a bit of olive oil, season heavily with salt and pepper, then set aside.

For the onions: Place a large saute pan over high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Once hot, add sliced onions.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook until they  just start to turn color, about 1-3 minutes, then reduce the heat to low.  Caramelize, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes, until the onions are a deep brown color.  Remove from the heat and keep warm.

For the yogurt vinaigrette:  In a large glass bowl, whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic cilantro, parsley, mint, and green onions together.  Drizzle in the olive oil and whisk until smooth.  Add the yogurt and continue to whisk until creamy.  Season with salt and pepper.

To serve:  When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh out and cut into rough 1 inch chunks.  Transfer to bowl with the lentils. stir to combine.  Mound about 1 cup of lentil mixture in the middle of a plate and drizzle with 2-3 tablespoons of the dressing.  Garnish with the caramelized onions.  I topped my salad with a grilled piece of Coho salmon.

What I changed and why
I would peel the squash first, it makes it easier in the long run.  
I only cooked 1 1/2 cups of lentils (original recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups).  
I added white wine to the lentils for flavor (alternatively, you could use vegetable stock).  I found the lentils lacked any real flavor.  
I quartered the lemons instead of slicing them.  The larger pieces made it easier to fish them out of the lentils after cooking.  
Also, I found that my lentils needed an additional 10 minutes of cooking time, plus I needed to add another cup of water half way through cooking.  
I cut back on the mint in the dressing and added parsley.  Also, I topped each salad with the dressing instead of coating the entire bowl of lentils (next time, I'll coat the lentils), but I was concerned about how to heat the leftovers.

Image courtesy of me!
Recipe slightly adapted from Guy's Big Bite