It seems like every year after Christmas, I am ready for winter to be over and Spring to begin. Unfortunately, that isn't the way it works and even though it's not exactly freezing outside, it is chilly and damp enough enough to remind me it is still December and we at least have 3 more months of this. This is also the time of year I get more than a little restless and come down with a massive case of wanderlust- the root of this is that I really wish I was at the beach right now. So of course I am craving the foods I eat at the beach- my corn and tomato salad, but neither of the main ingredients is at it's prime right now so I will have to wait not only for the salad, but for the beach as well.
Last night I was looking through all the magazines I haven't had a chance to go through for the last month. My favorite is Australian, Donna Hay, which really isn't helping matters at all since it is Summer in Australia and the magazine reflects it. So, this morning I compromised and decided to make a lentil salad which I drizzled with a French Vinaigrette. After all the rich holiday foods I have been eating and making, this is a nice fresh change. This Lentil salad is also very versatile, I have made chicken to go with it as it is good cold, hot and at room temperature. The vinaigrette is also really tasty on it's own, but the vinegar and oil separate very quickly so I found the best method to make it is by mixing it in a little jar. I saved a pretty little recycled jelly jar for this purpose, I put all the ingredients in, put the lid on and shake away which keeps me from endlessly whisking. I store it in the jar, and just shake it up when I need more. The vinaigrette will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
I love lentils, my favorite are French Puy Lentils, they cook very quickly and have a very earthy flavor. I find that when making salads that is the best variety, although for soup I like green lentils as they are a little creamier when cooked. You may use either variety, the French ones will cook in about 25 minutes while green lentils will cook in about 45 minutes. Check them often while they simmer to make sure they do not overcook.
8 oz French Puy Lentils
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Bay leaves
1 sprig fresh Thyme
1/2 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs- parsley, thyme, oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chicken stock
4 oz crumbled goat cheese
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup olive oil
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine olive oil, lentils, celery, bell pepper, shallots, garlic, bay leaves, and sprig of thyme, season with salt and pepper; cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Add enough chicken stock to cover lentils by a couple of inches, the amount will depend on the size of your pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 25-45 minutes depending on the type of lentils used, (see above). When lentils are tender, remove from heat, drain, discard bay leaves and thyme and set aside to cool.
3. Make vinaigrette by either shaking ingredients in a covered jar or by whisking together in a bowl.
4. In a serving bowl combine lentils, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. Drizzle with 1/2 cup vinaigrette and taste for salt and pepper. Add goat cheese and garnish with extra herbs, serve cold or at room temperature. If you are making the salad a day ahead add the herbs right before serving.