Saturday, February 5, 2011

a wintery lentil salad

Let's not even mention the weather. Forget it. There is nothing to say. The good news is that being cooped up allows one to spend some time thinking about things. Like recipes!
Lentils were on my mind and I felt a longing to combine them with a strong lemony flavor. Lentil salad I'm thinking, with a lemon vinaigrette. I would need some dark leafy greens for the "bed" and some cheesey cheese to keep it interesting. I stopped on my way home today and picked up a bunch of spinach and some Danish Blue cheese.  Ready to get started!
The other element I wanted to add to this salad was roasted shallots, deeply caramalized and gooey. The finished salad would require a lot of steps, but none too complicated and all fairly quick.

For the lemon vinaigrette I wanted it to be super tart and lemony so I made a lemon oil by heating the zest of a lemon and a few cloves of garlic in olive oil to intensify the flavor.
Lemon zest, garlic cloves, and black pepper corns get heated in olive oil.
While the lentil were boiling I quartered a few shallots and popped them in the oven to roast. It then occured to me to toast up some peppitas (pumpkin seeds) while I was at it for a little crunch. The preparations all required a bit of busy work, but the results were worth it. 
The salad was a smash hit as far as I'm concerned. The lentils were still warm and had a great earthy flavor, the spinach wilted slightly and had a fresh irony taste, the peppitas gave a nutty crunch, the shallots were smooth and sweet and the blue chese gave the knock-out punch: sharp, tangy and creamy. Each bite held a multitude of flavors and textures with the assertive lemon vinaigrette bringing it all together. Without TOO much trouble I had a salad that would be right at home in a trendy restaurant and it barely took me half an hour to make.
What weather?
Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, NY was so peaceful and quiet this weekend. Is it too soon to be thinking of picnics?

French Lentils, Blue Cheese and Roasted Shallot Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

3 cups water
3/4 cup French Lentils
zest of one lemon
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 shallots, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup raw peppitas
juice of one lemon
1/2 teas. salt
freshly ground pepper
1 bunch spinach, washed and spun dry
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan and add the lentils, let them cook for about 20 minutes, till tender, then drain and allow to cool a bit.
In another small saucepan add the olive oil, the garlic cloves, the peppercorns and bring to a low simmer for about five minutes, then turn off heat and allow the oil to cool. Peel and quarter the shallots and toss with a tablespoon of the lemon oil. Put the shallots in a small pan and roast for 15 minutes till very golden and tender. Put the peppitas in a small baking tray and toss with 2 teaspoons of the lemon oil and toast in the oven for 5 minutes till golden (watch that they don't burn). Strain the rest of the olive oil and reserve to make the vinaigrette.

Make the vinaigrette: in a small bowl combine the lemon juice, salt and ground pepper to taste. Slowly add the rest of the olive oil, whisking as you go. 

Arrange the spinach leaves on a platter. Mound the lentils in the center of the platter. Arrange the roasted shallots around the lentils, sprinkle the blue cheese and the peppitas over the salad and then drizzle the lemon vinaigrette on top.
Serves two.

Wow! Absolutely gorgeous! Can't wait to try this healthy wintertime salad. For wine, my thoughts actually go in two directions. The first would be to focus on the blue cheese component of the salad, and enjoy a wine with a touch of sweetness. Typically a sweeter wine is the perfect match for a blue cheese, whether it be a Sauternes or even Port. The sweet quality of the wine is a delicious contrast to the salty nature of the cheese - a match made in heaven!

With that in mind, I would choose a Chenin Blanc. The grape has different characteristics depending on where it is grown. For example, in the Anjou region of France the wine will exhibit a dryer style, while in Vouvray,  it will be more off-dry (slightly sweet). The honeyed, floral flavors of Vouvray would lead me to this option. Chenin Blanc is a very versatile wine when it comes to food, but there are such a large variety of styles that you should be familiar with what you are buying when you are searching for the ideal match. The wines can be very dry or very sweet, and lots of places in between! I would choose an off-dry style for Deb's salad - this will work marvelously with the strong, dominant flavors of the blue cheese.

My other inclination would be to focus on the flavors of the lemon vinaigrette and match a wine accordingly. Sauvignon Blanc is fresh, tangy and citrusy with good acidity. With this in mind, a Sancerre would be my second choice.

While either wine, though very different, will work - I'm leaning towards the Chenin Blanc! I guess the only way to find out for sure is to make the salad, pour two glasses of wine, and see for myself! But if you are unfamiliar with this grape, make sure you seek the assistance of a knowlegeable salesperson so you know what you are getting!

1 comment:

  1. Your photos of the snow are really beautiful. The light is really great. The lentils sound perfect and the photos make the dishes look delicious.


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