We’ve been lucky in New York and have had a relatively mild summer. No, who am I kidding– this summer has been almost positively balmy, with temperatures barely squeezing past the eighties. Which is why the past few days have felt almost torturous. After a spell in the seventies (thanks, Polar Vortex), this weekend finally hit the nineties and peak-levels of humidity. Nature has decided to make up for our mild summer with weather that makes wanting to cook things– standing over a stove and heating up your kitchen– sound about as appealing as wearing a fur pelt. And while I can’t help you find an air conditioner, I can help you cool off and make your dinners a little more pleasantly temperate. The solution? Lentil salad.
I know, I know– lentils may not really seem like a summery food. Before finding this salad, I associated lentils with hearty winter soups, where they are warm and filling but typically slightly mushy and not terribly light. These soups much in your mouth and stick to your bones. Why would I introduce something like that in the middle of the summer? I’ll let you in on a little secret: lentil soups are great– don’t get me wrong– but they really do not let these little legumes live up to their full potential. Seriously, look at those beautiful things. How could sometime so beautiful be destined only for something so bleak and wintery?
A lentil that has truly realized its potential is soft but firm, earthy and flavorful, and plays well with other ingredients. They are the perfect base for a cold salad with your favorite summer ingredients, tossed in a light vinaigrette. And while turning the stove on may not be your favorite thing during these hot days, lentils are pretty difficult to mess up– all there is to do is basically throw them onto the heat and leave them while you go cool off, content until the timer rings and it’s time to turn off the stove.
This little salad would be perfect as a main course or a side dish, and since lentils have a good amount of protein it truly does function as either. It’s versatile enough to mix up with whatever you have available in the fridge. It would be great with cucumbers, beets, or mozzarella. The combinations are endless, and this salad is addictive enough that you will want to make it for days on end. Play with it, have fun with it, and don’t forget to stay cool.
Lentil Salad with Tomatoes and Feta
1 cup lentils, preferably French green
4 cups water
1 tsp dried thyme (or a few fresh sprigs)
About 3 medium tomatoes (approx. 185g)
About 1/2 cup feta (approx. 140g)
1/2 red onion
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Basil as garnish
Rinse the lentils to remove any impurities and drain well. Add the water to the pot along with some salt and the dried thyme leaves. If you have fresh thyme sprigs, feel free to add a few instead. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking on low for about 20 minutes, checking the lentils after about 15 to see if they are done. You do not want to overcook them! The lentils should be al dente– soft with “a bit of tooth”, or a teeniest bit resistance while chewing without being hard.
Once they are done, drain the lentils and run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Transfer them to a bowl and let the remaining heat dissipate.
In the meantime, prepare the remaining salad ingredients. I think the salad works best when all of the ingredients are similarly small. Chop the tomatoes into small (roughly quarter-inch chunks) pieces or, if using cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters. Slice the red onion into small slivers. Crumble the feta. Add these to the bowl with the lentils.
In a separate, small bowl, combine the olive oil and lemon juice with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk together well, then add to the salad. Toss well to combine. Let the salad sit at room temperature for about two hours before serving. This salad can be kept in the fridge for a few days, but remember to bring it back to room temperature before eating. Garnish with basil and enjoy.