If you would have told my childhood self that I would one day love, in fact crave lentils, my child know-it-all self would have laughed in your face. Let’s say my tastes (and manners) have evolved over the years, or maybe my choice of lentils improved. Whatever the reason they are so much better tasting to me now. My brother introduced me to French lentils several years ago. I guess the French get most things right, even lentils. I am really not sure what first inspired him to want to purchase these particular lentils, but I am going to venture a guess and say maybe it was the “French” preceding lentils that had something to do with his choice. He too is a francophile like me. He told me that the only place he could find them was at Whole Foods, and he loved them. I was intrigued. The next time I took a trip to our closest Whole Foods, (about an hours drive) I looked for them in the bulk food isle. There they were, small, round, with a pleasingly beautiful green background and black speckles over the surface. They were ascetically pleasing but I was still a little apprehensive about the taste.
My limited childhood experience with anything that even closely resembled these little gems had tainted my views. The least favorite dish of all time that my mom had made for us on a few occasions contained split peas. Usually using the left over ham from a prior meal, she made a hearty and nutritious soup. I did not appreciate it to say the least. It was the consistency I hated. It may have been creamed, having never watched her make this dish I cannot say. As a child all I saw was a giant bowl of thick green goo with bits of ham in it, sitting in front of me. I could never eat more than I bite, and did that with I am ashamed to say, a bit of gagging.
Flash forward a few decades and I decided to trust my brother’s French lentil recommendation, as he too had been present and experienced the split pea soup, and I gave them a try. French lentils are slightly different from regular lentils, in that they stay firmer and retain their shape even when cooked throughly. They have a nice bite to them and a flinty, mineral-like taste. I learned that to be real French lentils they must come from Auvergne, a mountainous region in the south of France. Their unique taste comes from the rich volcanic soil they are grown in. While they are indeed found at Whole Food Markets, they can also be ordered from a variety of mail order sources. Check out my list for one such source.
The recipe below is inspired from this recipe I used the first time I cooked french lentils, but has been adapted to my taste. It is a great summer salad and can be served on a bed of mixed greens or baby spinach with a baguette for a completely satisfying meatless monday meal. This salad is also a fabulous side dish when served with grilled swordfish or other such poisson. I used California Olive Ranch olive oil for the dressing which I feel is a good quality, grassy, fresh-flavored olive oil that complimented the earthiness of the dish. Herb vinegar purchased while on our recent epic road trip in Fort Collins, Colorado from Crescendo was also used in the vinaigrette. If you don’t have these available no worries, there are so many good choices in the grocery stores these days! Over all this is a very simple yet hearty and exceptionally flavored dish. Give it a try and please let me know your thoughts!
- 1 cupFrench lentils
- 1 cupwhite wine
- 1 1/2 cupswater
- 16 ozcherry tomatoes
- 4 oz goat cheese
- a fewgrinds of pepper
- 4 tbspolive oil
- salt to taste
- 1/2 cupchopped fresh Italian palsy
- 2 tbspherb vinegar
- Throughly rinse and pick through lentils.
- Place lentils in 2 quart saucepan with 1 cup wine, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tbsp olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium to low, cover and cook for approximately 40 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed. Allow to cool slightly after cooking.
- While lentils are cooking, prepare leeks.
- Trim leek and cut into quarters longways. Finely chop leek quarters.
- Place in salad spinner, rinse, soak, drain and spin. Repeat as necessary until throughly cleaned removing all grit from leeks.
- Sauté leeks over medium high heat in a little olive oil, until slightly softened about 6-8 minutes. Season with salt as desired. Set aside.
- Quarter cherry tomatoes and set aside.
- Make vinaigrette: Combine 3 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp herb vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
- Combine cooked and slightly cooled lentils, sautéed leeks, fresh tomatoes, and chopped italian parsley. Pour vinaigrette over and toss to coat.
- Serve with crumbled goat cheese on bed of mixed greens or baby spinach if desired. Eric also wrapped all of it up in a tortilla and said it was excellent!