The lentils are the key to this dish. They're not the normal brown American lentils we use for soup. They're smaller, darker brown or greenish, and the authentic ones are grown in and near Le Puy, which incidentally is a charming town in the Auvergne where my husband proposed to me on a snowy March evening many years ago. Did we eat this lentil salad that night? I have no idea. But it's possible.
I can find these lentils in my local grocery store, but depending on where in the world you are, you might have to hit more of a gourmet shop.
French lentil salad
1 500-gram box lentilles du Puy (also called green lentils)
juice and zest of two lemons
four cloves of garlic, chopped
3 Tbsp mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped cooked bacon (I use the bagged kind from Costco, but any will do) (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, any kind (I used parsley, chervil, tarragon, cilantro, rosemary, savory) (and if you only have dried herbs, that's fine too)
Rinse the lentils in a strainer and pick out any rocks - yes, sometimes there are rocks, and your teeth will appreciate the two minutes it takes to look for them.
Put the lentils in a saucepan, cover with water by a few inches, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the lentils about half an hour, or until al dente. You don't want them mushy, and the exact cooking time will depend on how long they've been sitting on the shelf in the store, so start checking them after about 20 minutes.
While the lentils are cooking, mix together the lemon juice and zest, garlic, mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper in a big bowl. If you're using dried herbs, add them now.
Drain the lentils when they're ready and add them to the vinaigrette. You want to do this while the lentils are hot so they absorb the flavors of the dressing. Add the chopped bacon and toss everything together.
Wait 10 minutes, until the lentils have cooled slightly, and then add the fresh herbs. (They will wilt less, and lose less of their color, if you let the salad cool before adding them.)
Let the lentils stand at room temperature for an hour or two before serving.