I don’t cook lentils very often, probably because there are too many good Indian restaurants nearby that work fragrant magic on them for me on a weekly basis. But I’ll make an exception every once in awhile for this bistro-style French lentil salad, which couldn’t be further from spicy Indian dal. (See what I did there?) It is equal parts tart, savory and smoky–all things I love. It’s simple yet extremely satisfying.
I’ve often seen French lentil salad paired with a simple grilled salmon fillet, which would be delicious, though I like it best with a few hunks of buttered baguette for a comfy lunch or light dinner. The little green French (or Puy) lentils have a toothsome texture and earthy–almost minerally–flavor that works well with their flavorful counterparts. The best part is, aside from the bit of hunting you’ll have to do for the lentils, everything else in this salad is widely available all the time. Note: Don’t substitute brown or yellow lentils in this recipe; they’re too mushy when cooked.
Warm French lentil salad
5-6 pieces bacon
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (reserve 1/4 cup for the dressing)
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs thyme, chopped and divided in half
1 1/2 cups French (puy) lentils, picked over for little stones
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 cup chopped baby spinach
Method: In a heavy-bottomed pot, render the bacon slowly over medium heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, and set on paper towels to drain, leaving the bacon grease in the pot. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to the pot, and turn the heat up to medium high. Add the chopped onion, saving 1/4 cup for the vinaigrette. Saute the onion till soft, about 5 minutes; then add the bay leaf, about half the fresh thyme and the lentils. Cook for 2 minutes, then add 3 cups water. Cover the pot, bring it to a boil and reduce it to a simmer.
Cook the lentils for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they’re tender while still maintaining their shape. Drain off the excess water, and remove the bay leaf. Check for seasoning, and adjust as needed. Set aside to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, combine the rest of the onion and thyme with the parsley, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly. Taste for seasoning, adjusting as needed.
Add the warm lentils and chopped spinach to the bowl with the vinaigrette, and toss to combine. Crumble the cooled bacon into small pieces and add it to the salad. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves 4 as a salad course.