Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
A big bowl of lentils with grilled red onions and cherry tomatoes
I owe the discovery of this easy, delicious and incredibly versatile way to prepare lentils to my Seven Days
colleague, Margaret Grayson.
Margaret has fallen in love with lentils, she told me. "They just sop up whatever flavor you want, like healthy little sponges." On a recent backpacking trip, she packed pink lentils and spices as a lightweight dinner.
This particular recipe calls for the tiny, dark green lentils that cook quickly and hold their shape. They are sometimes called French lentils or indigo lentils. (I buy them from the bulk section at City Market.) Beluga lentils, which are almost black, will also work well.
While the pot simmers, you whisk together a dressing of good vinegar and olive oil with a touch of honey, paprika and salt to pour over the hot, drained lentils. They drink up the dressing eagerly, as most of us would. The nutty lentils pair beautifully with the mellow acidity and hint of sweet and spice.
It may not sound like much, but that's like saying that a favorite pair of fits-just-right jeans is nothing special. You can dress them up; you can dress them down. They are, in fact, indispensable.
The recipe takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish; most of that is hands-off while the lentils cook. Over the last month, I have already made them three times. It is the kind of chameleon recipe that can shape-shift to go with whatever you have on hand.
You can eat the lentils straight, but it is more fun and rewarding to create all manner of one-bowl meals built on their sturdy foundation. Aside from providing a nutritious base, lentils are also naturally gluten-free and vegan. (Use maple syrup instead of honey if needed.)
These lentils have already played a humble but critical supporting role for the vegetables and herbs currently cascading in abundance from my garden and farm share.
I first tossed them with grilled baby red onions and halved cherry tomatoes. I then embellished the lentils with grilled zucchini, feta and loads of fresh oregano. Finally, I charred up several bunches of fat scallions, chopped them coarsely and then didn't have time to thinly slice the fennel bulbs I'd been planning to add before my guests arrived. It was still delicious.
The only slight drawback is that their drab army green pallor is not particularly pretty, so if serving for guests, I do recommend adding something bright for color.
Margaret and I both owe thanks to recipe developer and food writer Anna Stockwell of Epicurious. Here is the link to her recipe
from March 2020. Below, find some more ideas I'm dreaming about for future batches.
Marinated Lentil Salad Inspiration
- Fresh or roasted corn kernels + ribboned basil + shaved Pecorino
- Small pasta shapes + diced bell peppers + bocconcini mozzarella balls + flat leaf parsley
- Cubed roasted eggplant tossed in a little chili powder and cumin + chopped olives + dollops of plain whole milk yogurt + cilantro
- Chunks of steamed sweet potato + pickled red onion (credit to Margaret for this one; I think arugula would be great with this combo)
- Grilled halloumi + pickled mild peppers + golden raisins
- Lemon-garlic grilled shrimp, scallops or chicken + diced orange segments + toasted pistachios