by Raven Edwards | Photography by Dave Barfield
Twenty-some-odd years ago, I went to pay a visit on some good friends of ours. I had met Alexa Kleinbard and Jimmy Roche when my husband was in art school, and always looked forward to our visits to their eclectic home full of outsider art and marvels. Alexa met me at the door and we went into the kitchen to chat while she finished cooking. To tide me over until the main meal, she offered me a small bowl of lentil salad. It was love at first taste! The zingy dressing, tart feta, and bright crunch of red onions all perfectly complemented the earthy and perfectly tender lentils. I asked for and received the recipe that day. Over the years I have tweaked it a little, adding and subtracting until I think I have found the perfect formula. It has become a signature dish for me, appearing at family gatherings and potlucks with friends, and it always earns complements. Especially from our vegetarian friends.
|For the lentils:
1 pound dried brown lentils
1 large red onion (cut in half around the middle, the root end peeled and roots trimmed off, but otherwise kept whole, the other half will be chopped and used in the salad)
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
Water to cover to two inches above the top of the lentils
For the dressing:
4 cloves fresh garlic, pressed or minced very finely
2 tablespoons spicy brown or Dijon style mustard
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Cayenne pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (pour these into the palm of your hand and crush them with the thumb of your opposite hand, mortar and pestle fashion, to release the aromatic oils)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
For the finished salad:
1 pound feta cheese
The chopped red onion half from above, about 1 cup
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 bunch parsley, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
(Optional: 1 diced small red bell pepper; 1/2 cup diced cucumber)
Put the lentils in a large stock pan and cover them with 2 inches of water. Add the teaspoon of salt, the bay leaves, and the red onion half into which you will insert the whole cloves. Bring all of this to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don’t overcook them, you want the lentils to be tender, but whole. When they are ready, drain them in a large colander without rinsing, and remove and discard the bay leaves and the clove-studded onion.
Cool the lentils in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, mix together all of the ingredients for the dressing, whisking it into an emulsion. You can add oil, lemon juice or mustard to your taste at this point.
Combine the cooled lentils, the dressing, the chopped parsley, the grated carrot (additionally the red pepper or