When the days get brighter and longer, a girl’s thoughts turn to salad lunches. Based about 15 minutes walk away from any shops or cafés and blessed/cursed with a sloppy canteen, I bring my lunch to work year-round. Brown bread and a fridge in the office are my lifesavers – the bread for toasting in the canteen and the fridge to store endless blocks of cheese for my normal lunch. Sometimes food bloggers eat boring food too! With the arrival of the summer, however, I start wanting a little more variety, particularly as the canteen is closed at the moment so I have no access to my toaster.
At one stage in my life I lived in a little hobbit-hole of a basement flat with other two girls and, for a brief time, we took it in turns to make lunches for each other – pasta salads, bean salads, couscous salads – that kind of thing. It had to be a dish that was happy to be made the night beforehand and sit around in the fridge. One of my favourite lunches then, and now, is a simple Puy Lentil Salad with Balsamic Dressing. There aren’t very many ingredients needed here but what few there are should be very good. I always use the small, speckled blue-green Puy lentils in preference to the normal plain brown or green varieties (there’s a very good page on the different sorts of lentils with pictures here). The Puy lentils are better at keeping their shape – always a useful trait in a salad, otherwise it can be very sludgy – and they have a lovely deep, almost peppery, flavour. They’re also slightly more expensive than the others but they’re definitely worth it.
Quality control should also follow through to the salad dressing which is nothing more complex than an amalgam of several of my store-cupboard favourites – a fruity extra virgin olive oil, richly intense balsamic, pungent wholegrain mustard, freshly ground pepper and Maldon sea salt. The basics mastered, there are many different ingredients that you can add to the salad. The one in the photo, along with the ever-present chopped red onion and garlic clove, has a diced red pepper and handful of snipped chives. I often add cheese, either chunks of mature cheddar or cubes of feta. Goat’s cheese is also good but, between the Boyfriend and myself unable to leave it be, it rarely sticks around long enough to see the inside of a salad bowl. The small rice-like pasta shapes called orzo are also good in the lentils as are fresh soft herbs, tomatoes, olives, rocket or anything that you like. Just show some good judgment and don’t add them all together.
A quick look round at other people’s blogs for a few ideas throws up a myriad of great Puy lentil salad recipes. There’s a fabulous looking Puy Lentil Salad with Feta Cheese on Moira’s Who Wants Seconds blog and, to travel to the home of Puy lentils, you could try Salade de Lentilles Pomme et Cumin from Clotilde’s Chocolate & Zucchini in Paris. Veggie Evangelist Alanna Kellogg has a Lentil Salad with Tomatoes, Dill & Basil or you could try Julie’s Aromatic Lentils and Orzo at A Finger in Every Pie. Check out Albion Cooks’ Lentils Du Puy cooked in White Wine with Goat Cheese or, for another taste combination, try Jules’s warm green lentil, chorizo & cavolo nero salad at stone soup.
Puy Lentil Salad with Balsamic Dressing
Puy lentils – 250g
Onion – ½, peeled
bay leaves – 2
Carrot – 1, peeled and halved
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Red onion – 1, chopped
Garlic – 1 clove, halved
Wash the lentils thoroughly and put in a saucepan with the onion, bay leaves and carrot. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until they’re tender. The best way of telling this is to fish a lentil out and bite into it to check. The length of time depends on how old the lentils are.
Meanwhile, pour a pool of extra-virgin olive oil (about 6 tablespoons) into a large serving bowl then add a small amount of Balsamic vinegar (approximately 2 tablespoons) and a dollop of wholegrain mustard (around 1 teaspoon). Season well, whisk thoroughly and taste. Adjust to your own preferences.
Drain the lentils and, while they’re still hot, empty them into the dressing. Add the chopped onion and garlic then toss well. Taste again and add more oil, vinegar, mustard or seasonings if necessary.
Serve with plenty of bread for mopping – crusty French bread, focaccia, ciabatta or even thin slices of buttered Irish Brown Soda Bread.
Serves 4 or 2 x lunches by 2 x days.