french-lentil tarragon salad
lentils get a bad rap. when one thinks about lentils (or at least me, before the great revelation) one might envision shaggy, musty, dirty hippies in soiled white caftans sitting cross-legged and underwear-less, chowing down on a bowl of brown baby-pooh like mush. with one dirty, communal spoon passed among the group. overcooked lentils: bland, texturless, maybe even gassy. what's to love?
well i have had more than my share of these "hare krishna lentils" and when i was just starting out as a vegetarian, i cooked up many a bowl of that brown glop. what can i say, i was just a kid, i didn't know any better...i thought that was what lentils were supposed to do.
and then i discovered the lentil rainbow: red, brown, green and black. shortly thereafter i realized that if you don't overcook your lentils they will not disintegrate (except of course for the red ones, but that's what they're supposed to do, right?). now when i cook things like lentils or mung beans, i soak them first, even though everybody says that you don't have to. this step seems to help them cook more evenly. a few other things i've learned from long experience is that they need to be cooked in salted water (so they are not so very, very bland inside) at barely a simmer. then, once they're drained but still hot, i handle them very carefully because they are more fragile and apt to come apart at this point. once they are chilled you can be more brutish with them.
the following recipe is an approximation of a dish i make fairly often and is just a guideline to be adjusted to your own taste and what you have on hand. i don't find it necessary to add any oil to this dish but it's a matter of preference. a generous splash of olive oil certainly wouldn't hurt...
french lentil tarragon salad
2 cups dried french lentils
1 large carrot, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
4 ribs celery (including inner leaves), diced
3 sprigs tarragon, minced
1/4 cup minced parsley
1-2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 - 1 lemon, juiced
1-3 Tablespoons prepared mustard (try this awesome and easy homemade version)
red wine vinegar to taste
salt and pepper to taste
soak the lentils for a few hours before cooking. drain soaking water and put lentils in a pan with enough salted water (should taste like the ocean) to cover. bring to a gentle simmer. begin checking lentils after 10 minutes and remove from heat when just tender. drain and reserve any juices. gently toss the lentils with the garlic and lemon juice. add the minced vegetables and herbs. toss again and season with additional salt, lemon juice and red wine vinegar to taste. make sure to taste this again once it has cooled to room temperature and adjust seasonings one last time. serve with a drizzle of olive oil (optional) and fresh ground black pepper. also optional: boil down leftover cooking juices until most of the water has evaporated and reincorporate into the salad. make sure to compensate for the saltiness of the reduced broth if using.