Monday, January 5, 2009

Recipe: French lentil salad (or, The romantic lentils of Le Puy)

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The first time I ate this sort of French lentil salad was in Paris, at a restaurant on the Left Bank - perhaps called L'Entrecote? - that my husband says he has tried and failed to find again on subsequent trips. But it's by no means unique to that particular venue; tiny "lentilles du Puy" in a garlicky, mustardy vinaigrette with herbs and lardons (meaty chunks of bacon), served at room temperature or perhaps a tad warm.

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.


Hilary Cable said...

Mmmmmmm! I'm going to make your lentils this weekend. Sounds fantastic! So what's the difference between the tan lentils and green lentils? Will I see a difference in the finished product?

Erika Kerekes said...

The French lentils are smaller and stay firm - they've got more of a bite to them. Don't overcook them, but do take them out of the water when they're decidedly al dente. You don't want them mushy. The finished salad should have more definition, and it will be brown rather than olive drab.

Hilary Cable said...

Making your lentils with fresh tarragon from the garden and serving on a bed of red Swiss chard. My vegetarian friend Jennifer will love these!

Britt Henesy said...

Looks great! What kind of mustard do you prefer? Thanks!

Erika Kerekes said...

Britt - I use Dijon mustard for this recipe - actually, I use Dijon mustard most of the time, now that I think about it. Enjoy! And if you make it, please come back and tell me what you thought!

Jesus said...

Great recipe! I just cooked them and my girlfriend ate two spoonfuls of it while really hot.

Erika Kerekes said...

@Jesus - I'm glad you liked it (and your girlfriend too!). Thanks for leaving me a comment to let me know you tried the recipe!

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