Regarding the emotional needs of legumes, I would like to put forth the argument that lentils are in urgent need of some love. The poor petite pulses are so narrowly confined to their namesake soup, save a marginal feature in the occasional veggie burger or salad. It’s as if the lentil’s inherit earthiness keeps it tethered to dishes that are similarly mellow—chill, easy flavors often paired side-by-side with likeminded constituents such as mushrooms, quinoa, and squash. The laid-back lentil!
That is, until our little timorous legume got a major makeover in Deborah Madison’s Lentil Salad with Roasted Peppers, Mint, and Feta Cheese. Here, the lentil positively shines in a snazzy, salacious salad: all dressed up (literally) in a tangy, punchy dressing and flanked with flavor-forward accouterments like briny feta, fresh herbs, and flame-kissed roasted red peppers. Instead of burying the lentils in earthy tones, they are brilliantly enveloped in exciting ones. A dressing of tart lemon juice and rind, smoky paprika, and slick olive oil is punchy to say the least, but it’s the treatment of the lentils themselves that deliver extra pop to this recipe: simmered in a rich stock of onion, carrot, garlic, and bay leaf, which not only adds killer flavor to the lentils but produces a delightful, meaty broth on the side.
In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, I am super excited about this salad. It’s a very exciting salad! A salad deserving multiple exclamation marks!! (It’s also a Food52 Genius recipe, meaning it’s unarguably excellent). What’s more, this delightful, underused seasonal legume—by seasonal I mean with a hearty nature apropos to the colder months, you can obviously buy lentils year round—also happens to be a nutritional powerhouse.
When it comes to nutrition, lentils aren’t joking around. A single cup of cooked lentils contains 16 grams of dietary fiber, or 63% of the USDA recommended daily intake. They also provide a whopping 18 grams of protein per cup, on par with carnivorous sources but ditching the saturated fat and cholesterol. And when it comes to vitamins, the little legume continues to pack a punch, boasting a significant source of folate, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin, and vitamin K. Just one more reason to support the underdog of the legumes—a position, I suspect, le lentil will not stay in for long.
Deborah Madison’s Lentil Salad with Roasted Peppers, Mint, and Feta Cheese (slightly modified from Food52)
Serves 4 to 6
For the Lentil Salad:
1 ½ cup small French lentils (Puy or beluga)
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1/8-inch squares
2 celery ribs, diced
½ small onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp salt
2 medium red bell peppers
1 tbsp chopped mint
¼ cup chopped mixed herbs: parsley, marjoram or cilantro, thyme
Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar to taste
8 ounces feta cheese
Olive oil, for garnish
For the Lemon Vinaigrette:
1 large lemon
¼ tsp paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1. Rinse the lentils, cover them generously with water, and bring them to a boil with the carrot, onion, bay leaf, garlic, and salt. Simmer them until they are cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes. They should be tender, just a little firm, and still hold their shape. Drain the lentils and save the liquid for soup stock.
2. While the lentils are cooking, roast the peppers over a flame until they are evenly charred, and put them in a covered bowl to steam for 10 minutes or so; then, if desired, scrape off the charred skins with a knife. Do not rinse them under water or the flavorful juices will be lost. Slit them open, remove the veins and seeds, and cut them into squares.
3. Prepare the vinaigrette. Remove two wide strips of peel from the lemon with a vegetable peeler, and slice them into narrow sliver). Put 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice in a bowl with the lemon peel, paprika, cayenne, garlic, and salt. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and taste.
4. Fold lemon vinaigrette it into the warm lentils. Add the mint, herbs, and most of the peppers. Taste, and season with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt, if needed. Taste again just before serving and add a little more vinegar to brighten the flavors. Crumble the feta and gently stir it into the lentils.
5. Garnish with the remaining peppers and drizzle some olive oil over the surface.