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Recession-Proof Recipes: French Lentil Salad

Never does a cold salad sound so good as on a sticky, hot, lethargic day.

That's when there's nothing finer than slumping over to the fridge and finding a tasty stash tucked away. Yes, some generous former version of yourself (perhaps that productive weekend you?) had the foresight to prepare and place this delight in the fridge for your current lazy enjoyment. Thanks, past-tense self. You rule.

Using the spicy horseradish mustard whipped up in last week's post, it's quick (and tasty) work for you (or some former version of you) to make a one of this household's summertime favorites... the French Lentil Salad.

This is a terrific salad to have around because it's full of protein, it's easy to make vegetarian or meatetarian, it's easy to make in advance (and travels well to picnics), it doesn't take long to cook and it keeps in the fridge for several days, so you can make a large batch on a Sunday and eat it for your weekday lunches and lazy midweek moments.

French Lentil Salad with marinated artichokes
French Lentil Salad with marinated artichokes

The accommodating French Lentil Salad also welcomes a variety of ingredients. This week, we happened to have baby leeks in the CSA box, so sliced baby leeks replaced the scallions I usually use.

If I have a can of marinated artichokes around... in they go. A few extra olives in the fridge? Slice 'em up. Sun-dried tomatoes? Delightful. J really loves this salad with oil-packed tuna. (At $10 a jar, it's a splurge, but we really love the Ortiz Bonito del Norte. Mmm...)

French Lentil Salad with Serrano Ham
French Lentil Salad with Serrano ham

Basic French Lentil Salad (Makes about five cups)
The lentils
9 oz dried green lentils
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
Water, to cover

1. In a large pot, soak the lentils, covered in salt water, for 1 hour.
2. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until tender, but not overcooked, about 15 minutes.
3. Drain, spread on a sheet tray to cool, and combine with the salad ingredients.

The vinaigrette
1/4 cup spicy mustard (or DIY mustard)
3 Tbsp wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch sugar (optional)

1. Mix the mustard and vinegar.
2. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth.
3. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, to taste.

The salad
1. Mix the cooled lentils in a large bowl with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
2. Add in your choice of additions. Use whatever you have. I usually mix in:

1/2 to 1 cup chopped herbs (parsley, mint, cilantro or a combination thereof)
2-3 slices Serrano or Proscuitto ham, diced
1/4 to 1/2 cup dried currants, softened in hot water for 20 minutes
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

While French Lentils aren't the cheapest legume on the shelf, I can still pick up about 18 oz for less than three bucks, so a basic version of this recipe can be made for as little as 80 cents a cup (the olive oil, lentils and any dressy bits you add in being the expensive ingredients).

Not a bad price for such a delightful source of protein and fiber.

Cheers!

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6.18.2008

Colonel Mustard. In the Kitchen. With a Knife.

I wonder if the entrée is a bit like a family's first child. Lots of attention. Lots of photos. Lots of fuss. Conversely, the condiments of a meal are more like the third or fourth children. They're loved and cherished, of course, but they don't get the same kind of special notice.

It was close to 100°F today, so there was no cooking in our dinner plans. We ate a big dinner-sized salad made up of farmer's market lettuce, cherry tomatoes, diced rotisserie chicken and pepperoncini slices dressed in a zippy mustard vinaigrette.

It was wonderful... alive with flavor. But the tastes we enjoyed were dependent on the freshness of the lettuce, the juiciness of the rotisserie chicken, the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes and most of all, the bold, lively flavor of the mustard vinaigrette, a delight made possible by J's close proximity to The Pickle Guys and Guss' Pickles.

Pickles & Mustard Crocks at L'Express in Montreal
Pickles & Mustard Crocks at L'Express in Montreal.

Long ago, households made their own mustard as a matter of course. It varied from home to home. It had personality. The mustards of yesteryear developed and matured in flavor as they sat in pottery crocks on the shelves of larders.

But today's mustards are shelf-stable and consistent. They're the same from day 1 to day 321. They're clones. Every bottle of French's is like every other.

Though these United States are awash in dead yellow packets and squeeze bottles of uninspired mass-market mustard, there are still delis and pickle guys and grandmas making their own, god bless 'em. Spicy homemade mustard. Mustard with vigor. Mustard with cojones.

I think summertime is a fine time to have some of the real stuff. It's a time of bratwurst and hamburgers, potato salads and barbecue sauces and picnic sandwiches.

If you happen to live too far from one of the keepers of the ancient yellow flame, you can make mustard yourself without much trouble at all. You can even be generous about it. Divide your batch in half and pack a bottle as a gift. Throw your own custom label on it. Go crazy.
DIY Spicy Horseradish Mustard (Makes 1 1/2 cups)

3/4 cup wine vinegar (red or white)
1/8 cup brown mustard seeds
1/4 cup dry mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp prepared horseradish
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt

1. Combine the vinegar, mustard seeds, dry mustard, garlic, horseradish, sugar and salt with 1/4 cup of water in a jar with a lid.
2. Cap the jar and shake well.
3. Refrigerate for two days.
4. Puree mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to the jar and use immediately or store, chilled. Your mustard will mature and improve over a few weeks' time.

Quick Mustard Vinaigrette (Makes about 1/2 cup)
I find this mustard is particularly tasty with meaty salads and salads that include a cheddar cheese.

1 Tbsp DIY mustard
2 Tbsp wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch sugar (optional)

1. Mix the mustard, water and vinegar.
2. Whisk in the vegetable oil until smooth
3. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, to taste.

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6.11.2008