Lentil salad is just the start of a culinary treasure trove

February 25, 2022

I was bored last weekend and wanted to make an interesting salad for lunch, but the pantry shelves were quite depleted, except for a bag of lentils tucked back in a corner. Of course, just like any other DIY project, I would need to use the materials on hand. After foraging in the crisper drawer, I added cucumber, green onion, orange bell pepper and feta cheese to my ingredient list.

For those of you unfamiliar with lentils, they are in the family of edible seeds known as legumes. Lentils are very small and round with a lens-shaped convexity on each side. According to food historians, lentils are one of the oldest domesticated foods, eaten by humans since the Stone Age. They offer a rich portfolio of nutritional benefits, including protein, micronutrients and high fiber content.

Lentils are sold either split or whole and vary in color, which is how the types are distinguished from each other: green, yellow, red, brown and black. The last of these are also known as Beluga lentils for their resemblance to caviar. One variety of green lentils is the Puy lentil, a French product that has earned an AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) protection status.

When you’re ready to cook lentils, the first step is to rinse and pick through them to remove any small stones or other debris – no matter the source, you’ll always find something in the mix that isn’t a lentil. You also need to select the variety of lentil based on the dish you are making. For a hearty soup, you’ll want red lentils, which cook down and become mushy, thickening the broth. Beluga lentils have a rich flavor and hold their shape.

For the salad in the photo, we chose Puy lentils, which are greenish when raw and become slightly browner when cooked. Their mild, earthy flavor and tender texture are well suited to soak up a vinaigrette. Lentils cook much more quickly than dried beans, typically in 15 to 25 minutes, depending on their size and age. Although lentils can be stored for months, if they become too old, they will begin to shrivel.

Boiling is the easiest way to approach cooking lentils, but you can add some flavor interest by using broth or stock instead of water as the cooking liquid. Be sure to throw in some aromatics, and don’t add salt until the final few minutes of cooking to prevent toughening the texture. You can drain them in a colander or scoop them from the liquid with a slotted spoon, depending on the recipe.

Even if you are making a salad, you’ll want to keep the cooking liquid for a future use in a soup or stew. To assemble the salad here, I scooped out the lentils and transferred them to a serving dish, tossing them with olive oil and rice wine vinegar while still warm. While the lentils marinated for a moment, I finely diced the other vegetables and added them to the dish, folding gently with a spatula.

The combination of ingredients will depend on the textures you want to balance. Since the lentils were soft and starchy, the cucumber and bell pepper added crunch. Feta cheese contributes salty, savory notes, and the green onion adds some bite. Once all the ingredients have been mixed together, taste a mouthful to see what else the vinaigrette might need to provide the right degrees of moisture and flavor.

Most lentil salads can be served warm or chilled. I find the flavors mellow and intensify after some time in the refrigerator. I’ve included instructions for a salad, a soup, and a simmered dish of lentils and onions. As in most recipes, substitution can deliver some interesting results.

Lentil Salad

1/3 C Puy lentils
1 1/2 C vegetable broth
1/2 t salt
2 T olive oil
2 T rice wine vinegar
1/3 C diced cucumber
1/3 C diced orange bell pepper
3 sliced green onions
1/2 C crumbled feta cheese
1/2 t lemon pepper seasoning

Combine the lentils and broth in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high, then reduce to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer cooked lentils to a serving dish with a slotted spoon, reserving the cooking liquid for another use. Drizzle lentils with olive oil and vinegar; toss gently to combine. Add remaining ingredients and stir with a spatula. Serve warm or chilled.

Lentil Soup

1 T olive oil
1/2 C chopped onion
1 diced carrot
1 diced celery stalk
1/2 C diced red bell pepper
6 chopped mushrooms
3 chopped garlic cloves
4 C vegetable broth
1/4 C red lentils
1/4 C green lentils
2 T tomato paste
1 C stemmed, torn kale
1/2 t paprika
1/4 t thyme
salt, to taste

Heat olive oil over medium in a soup pot. Add onion, carrot and celery; sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add pepper, mushrooms and garlic; cook another 3 minutes, stirring often. Deglaze the pan with broth, scraping up any browned bits. Add lentils, tomato paste and kale. Cook over medium until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in paprika and thyme; season to taste with salt.


1 C lentils
7 C water
1 T salt
3/4 C rice
3/4 C olive oil
5 onions

Place lentils in a large pot and add water. Cook over medium for 15 minutes. Add salt and rice; cover and cook another 15 minutes over low. Peel onions and cut into half-inch-thick slivers. Pour olive oil in a deep skillet; add onions and cook over medium until golden. When onions are ready, transfer to the pot of lentils along with the oil. Cook another 10 minutes over low, stirring to prevent sticking. Yield: 4 to 6 servings. *Adapted from Scheherazade Cooks.


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