I admit that I was a late adopter of lentils.
Even after I had adopted beans as healthy and good for you, I somehow missed lentils. They just didn’t seem that excited relegated to a gray-green mass in soups and warming winter dishes. They seemed doomed to spend their existence in nearly formless layers of sludge at the bottom of soup bowls, seen barely, if at all in the murky depths.
They always seemed to me support foods, something you add to increase the bulk of your dish. Make it more filling.
I have never thought of lentils as the star of their own dish. Until now.
What started the whole thing was the discovery that Trader Joe’s had pre-cooked French lentils. Vacuum packed and refrigerated they were easy to open, rinse and use. After all anything new and easy to deal with is worth experimenting with, right?
I had expected them to taste plasticky and artificial with that salty metallic taste that canned good develop. But much to my surprise they were exactly what they promised to be, cooked, salted lentils; perfectly done, creamy and light. It was as if I had made them myself. Only in about oh…one-one hundredth of the time it takes to cook the lentils themselves.
I was already through the second package and starting on my third when it occurred to me to actually take a photo of them. It just seemed so natural. Since they are vacuum packed and last geologically long in the refrigerator, it is easy to improvise a light salad; tossing together a few colorful ingredients for texture and taste contrast in order to get something wonderful.
I found myself unable to stop eating them until every last morsel was gone, chasing down the last tiny lentil and squishing it satisfyingly between my teeth. It’s that kind of side dish. The one that everyone looks at cockeyed until they taste it at which point is vanishes in lieu of other dishes. It’s the dish that gets asked back, surreptitiously sometimes because lentils are so unloved.
These lentils have changed me! I vow from now on to forgo hiding my lentils at the bottom of thick, swampy concoctions in the misguided thought that lentils must be cooked to a pulpy mush. I vow from now on to explore these delightful little morsels of toothsome pleasure who’s porous surface so readily drinks up the flavor of light marinades.
And so a toast to this tiny unsung hero: To lentils I say!
Note: This would be a refreshing summer salad to serve well chilled. Or a lovely side dish for a BBQ. I like the crunch of jicama in this but almost anything with a good crunch would work, turnips, water chestnuts, or cucumbers would be very welcome.
Summer Lentil Salad
2 cups cooked lentils, chilled
2 tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped jicama
2 tablespoons finely chopped basil or cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
2 cloves of garlic crushed
Salt & Pepper to taste
Combine everything in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Allow to chill for a minimum of 2-4 hours.
Server garnished with additional tomato slices and basil leaves.