In Europe, the lentille du Puy or du Puy lentil from France’s Auvergne region, is considered to be the very king of lentils and a gourmet delight. This tiny grey-green lentil has a singular flinty taste, a firm bite, and keeps its shape very well during cooking, making it perfect for salads. Though the du Puy lentil is a protected appellation in France due to its unique terroir, Washington lentil farmers have been growing similar heirloom varieties. If you can’t find a du Puy–style lentil, then by all means use a regular green lentil, but be careful not to overcook.
The earthy taste of lentils goes perfectly with the earthiness of root vegetables. Carrots, roasted to a caramel sweetness, seem to be a particularly felicitous match. I have paired this lentil and carrot salad with labneh, a Middle Eastern cream cheese made of strained yogurt, mostly because I’m addicted to making the stuff, but a creamy goat cheese or salty feta would also go well. If you want to turn this into a hearty meal, serve with grilled salmon.
Serves: 4 | Active time: 45 minutes + about 1 hour cooling time
For the labneh (if using, you will need to start this the night before)
Measure yogurt into a bowl and add a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir them in thoroughly. Line a fine strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth, leaving an overlap for wrapping the yogurt, and set the strainer over another bowl. Add the yogurt, wrap it with the cheesecloth, and set the bowl, strainer, and yogurt into the fridge for 12–24 hours. Before serving, swirl on some olive oil and, if you have it, sprinkle on some za’atar, the traditional garnish made from thyme and sesame seeds. (World Spice Merchants does a good version.)
For the lentils
1 1/2 cups French-style green lentils
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs thyme
1 small onion, peeled
4 cloves (optional)
For the carrots
10–15 slender carrots (or larger carrots, peeled if necessary, and sliced lengthwise into halves or quarters)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
For the lentil dressing and salad
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 generous handfuls arugula
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped mint
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Rinse lentils in a strainer and put them in a saucepot with the bay leaf and thyme. If using, press the cloves into the onion and place that in the pot. Cover everything generously with water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook 20–25 minutes until the lentils are tender but still retain some bite. Be careful not to overcook.
While the lentils are cooking, place the carrots on a baking sheet, sprinkle on the olive oil and cumin seeds, and stir to coat thoroughly (I use my hands). Place in the oven for 20–25 minutes until tender to the fork. Set aside to cool. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper for the dressing in a bowl big enough to accommodate the lentils.
When the lentils are cooked, remove the onion, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf, and drain the lentils well. Add the lentils to the dressing while still warm, stirring to coat. Set aside to cool until lukewarm or room temperature.
When the lentils have cooled, stir in the arugula, sliced onion, parsley, and mint. Taste and add a little more salt if necessary.
Serve the lukewarm lentils together with the carrots and a big scoop of labneh.
gluten free • vegetarian