It’s been bizarrely warm lately for this time of year in Minneapolis – I think we may have even hit 80 sometime last week, which is literally 40 degrees above average. The lawns are green, the trees are blooming, and I’ve been spending my evenings sitting on the porch, rather than huddled up under a blanket in my cold, cold house that my roommates and I can’t afford to heat above 60 degrees. It’s been FANTASTIC.
But it’s given me a hankering for summer foods – fresh tomatoes and eggplant and ripe, red peppers and all the other wonderful peak-of-summer farmers market veggies that, sadly, won’t be showing up in my kitchen in any degree of abundance for several more months. These are things I tend to buy and eat sparingly during the winter months, due to the expense as well as to the lack of quality compared to the vine-ripened, fresh-picked stuff you can get at farmers markets in July and August. A midwinter ratatouille made with imported eggplant and tomatoes just doesn’t compare to the same dish made with veggies that were picked that morning in the summer – and the winter version will cost you about three times as much to boot. It’s better to stick with winter staples to get your requisite veggies, in my opinion – squashes, cabbages, kale, and root veggies – with some canned tomatoes, picked ripe and canned fresh, to add some much-needed variety.
But last week was definitely too hot for a soup or stew, so I opted to try out this middle-of-the-road dish – a cold salad, with some fresh veggies, but comprised primarily of lentils, which are cheap year-round. It did not disappoint – it was crunchy and tangy and just summery enough to satisfy my need for a bit of warm weather food. This salad is very similar to a tabbouleh, but has the advantage of packing more protein (thanks to the lentils), and is gluten-free.
This recipe is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook. I’ve changed some of the vegetable quantities to make things simpler (so you don’t end up with a third of a green pepper and half a cucumber sitting around rotting in your fridge – I hate recipes like that). I recommend serving it with a side of hearty bread and a spoonful of plain yogurt mixed in.
Greek Lentil Salad (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook)
- 1 lb. or 2 c. green or brown lentils
- 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 roma tomatoes, or 1 regular (round) tomato, finely chopped
- 1 small- to medium-sized green pepper, finely chopped
- 1 small- to medium-sized cucumber, cut into a 1/4 inch (or so) dice
- 1/2 bunch parsley (stems and leaves), minced
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 4 Tbsp. olive oil
- 6 Tbsp. lemon juice (fresh is always more flavorful – 1 very large, juicy lemon or 2 smaller lemons should do it)
- 2 tsp. salt, or to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cook the lentils (and allow enough time for them to cool in the fridge, if you want to serve this cold): Rinse, and cover in 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook partially covered until the lentils are tender but not falling apart.This should take about 25 minutes, though it could take longer if your lentils are old, so try a few at 25 minutes to see where they’re at. Add more water if they get too dry.
Once the lentils are cooked, drain the cooking water (or save it for later use in a soup or stew). Refrigerate the lentils for a couple hours or longer, if you want to serve this cold (though this dish is great served warm as well, so it’s okay if you don’t have time to let the lentils cool).
Immediately prior to serving, chop all the veggies and combine them in a bowl. Add the lentils plus the oregano, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Mix, taste, and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with yogurt and/or bread, if you wish.
Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.
~1 lb. brown lentils @ $1.79/lb. = ~$1.79
1/2 medium onion: $0.50
2 roma tomatoes: $1.21
1 green pepper: $1.03
1 cucumber: $1.47
1/2 bunch parsley: $0.80
1 ridiculously juicy lemon: ~$1.00
Total for at least five servings: $7.80 plus the cost of small amounts of oregano, olive oil, salt, and pepper.