Around the world, in colors ranging from brown to yellow, green, white (!), and red, lentils provide culinary goodness across the courses–appetizers to entrees.
A salad/side dish of lentils with scallions and feta cheese is by now almost iconic in my repertoire, starting from the beginning of my shop, Pig-by-the-Tail, to countless picnics, backyard barbecues, a quick “side” for a simple pork chop or lamb chop dinner, or simple bowl of goodness for, say, New Year’s Day or any other morning after.
For this dish, from among the many lentil incarnations I choose the delicate yet sturdy French Puy lentils, lentilles du Puy, which retain their shape and tooth even while softening enough to embrace the dressing. They’re widely available in specialty food shops and upscale grocers. Walnut oil is a particularly good choice for the dressing, but a fine extra virgin olive oil also works beautifully. If using the dish as a side, it is best dressed and served slightly warm or at room temperature. If using as a salad, serve at room temperature or chilled, perhaps scooped into butter lettuce leaf “cups” (see the sidebar).
Serves 4 as a salad or side dish
1 cup French lentils
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions, including the tender green tops (reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup walnut or extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 ounces feta cheese (about 1/2 cup)
Butter lettuce leaves, for serving (optional)
1. Rinse the lentils in a colander and transfer them to a large pot. Add water to cover by 2 inches, partially cover the pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to maintain a brisk simmer and cook, uncovered, until the lentils are tender but still al dente, 17 to 20 minutes. Stir in the salt.
2. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold water, and set aside to drip dry in the colander for 30 minutes or so.
3. Transfer the lentils to a large bowl. Add the pepper, scallions, and parsley and toss to mix. Add the lemon juice and oil and toss to mix again. Crumble the feta over the top, sprinkle the reserved sliced scallion tops overall, and serve.