Food

Start With Lentil Salad

Lentil salad

Lentil salad is one of the first things I ever learned how to make, over 30 years ago, and I’m still making it today…

Part of the reason for this is because it reminds me of my best friend’s mother, Rosa, one of my first cooking heroes. She had a wooden recipe box on her kitchen counter that was stuffed with Craig Claiborne clippings from The New York Times, and was the only person I knew who made special trips to track down special ingredients, never quite content with the local supermarket where the rest of us shopped. No matter when I walked into her kitchen, it smelled amazing, and best of all, for two always-starving teenagers (Rosa’s daughter, Jeni, and me) the refrigerator was always packed with leftovers. We knew we hit pay dirt when those leftovers were her shepherd’s pie or her lentil salad.

Lentil salad

The other reason I’m still making her lentils is that they are so easy. Easy enough for an ambitious teenager to make and an easy enough starting point for a busy person who wants to just make sure there’s something healthy on the dinner table, for herself or her family. The recipe that Rosa handed to me (which I later copied in my own handwriting and glued into my spiral-bound “recipe book” — that’s how young I was and how old I am) called for boiling the lentils in beef broth and tossing the salad with tarragon vinegar. It would be a long time before I became confident enough to have the thought Maybe I can use another vinegar besides tarragon? And another broth besides beef? And these days, the lentils are tossed with whatever vinegar I have in the pantry: white balsamic or sherry or red wine or white wine, and simmered in whatever liquid I have on hand. The other big difference? I deploy it as a main dish more than a side dish. All I have to do is add a flaked salmon, a cooked crumbled sausage, or a seven-minute egg, and I have the best kind of dinner: healthy, easy, sentimental.

Warm Lentil Salad
Makes 4 sides or 3 mains

1 1/2 cups brown lentils
2 1/2 – 3 cups liquid (vegetable stock, chicken stock, beef stock, water, or any combination of them) or enough to cover lentils by about an inch
1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), minced
3 tablespoons chopped bell pepper, any color, I like red (or more to taste)
leaves from 4 sprigs of fresh thyme (or a generous handful finely chopped parsley)
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
little less than 1/4 cup vinegar (I used white balsamic, but you can use tarragon, red wine, regular balsamic)
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

In a medium pot, boil lentils in broth-water combo, then reduce heat and simmer for 12-15 minutes. While lentils are cooking, make your dressing by whisking together mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. When lentils are tender, but still holding their shape (taste a few to determine tenderness) drain in a colander. Toss lentils while warm with scallions, pepper, thyme and vinaigrette.

Protein Add-Ins: Two links cooked, crumbled sweet Italian sausages or a 3/4-pound salmon filet (baked at 400°F for 12-15 minutes), flaked; fried eggs or 7-minute eggs drizzled with chili oil.

P.S. Start with spicy chicken pieces and five things to do with a chicken cutlet.

  1. DK says...

    This was SO good, thank you for sharing. I added chick peas for some more protein.

  2. I made this today and used a watermelon-fennel vinegar that is absolutely divine. It gave it a sweet and full-bodied texture, so I skipped the sweet red pepper.

    As usual, great recipe, Jenny!

  3. Jes says...

    I’ve made it many times from your first cookbook and my now teen daughter is taken over making it for our family. A summer staple in our refrigerator when no one wants to cook everyday but we still need to eat!

  4. Katie says...

    I made this yesterday and am enjoying leftovers for lunch. I added some peas and carrots and a splash of lemon juice. So good!

  5. Meagan says...

    Made the lentil salad for lunch today. Used regular balsamic vinegar, and extra bell pepper. Served it over a pile of baby spinach with a chopped hard boiled egg on top. Delicious!

  6. Jen says...

    I came across this on Jenny’s blog years ago, when my kids were toddlers, and I went through a phase when I made it constantly. But this makes me realize I haven’t made it in years. And they’re getting close to being hungry teenagers!! Time to bring it back.

  7. Sam says...

    Would green lentils work here?

    • Meagan says...

      I used French green lentils when I made it today. They take a bit longer to cook than brown lentils, but otherwise worked fine.

  8. Ellie says...

    I used to devour big bowls of lentil salad with feta, scallions and apples plus balsamico&olive oil during my first pregnancy. my daughter is now almost eleven and she knows how to make it and can inhale a whole bowl of it no problem.

    • Julie says...

      Yum! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Anja says...

    Yum yum yum! Found your recipe yesterday, made it today. :-) So good! Instead of scallions and thyme I used up all the wild garlic I had collected last week – perfect combination! Thank you for this yummy idea!

  10. Maclean Nash says...

    This salad is delicious! It was our dinner tonight and it will definitely be a monthly staple!
    Thank you Jenny, youre recipes are always a slam dunk!

  11. Bailey says...

    I can only hope that my son and his friends will remember me some day for my legume salads. I could live on lentil and bean salads, topped with a handful of arugula, served with a hunk of warm crusty bread with butter. Mmmm.

  12. Sara says...

    Trader Joe’s sells cooked lentils in the refrigerated produce section which makes making lentil salad a breeze!

  13. M. says...

    Such a nice memory/story with this recipe!
    I like using beluga lentils (they are little black ones that hold their shape nicely) for my lentil salad bowls. I occasionally add some sautéed leeks or mushrooms or any other leftovers I may have. Plus a boiled egg. Will be trying with your dressing next time!

  14. Deirdre says...

    Thank you Anna and Aly! I really appreciate you taking the time to respond. I have been feeling very uninspired in the cooking department in the last few COVID months. I think this might be enough to get me back in the saddle :)

  15. Dana says...

    Just made this for a late lunch – yum! I added red bell pepper, capers, and goat cheese along with the vinaigrette because that’s what I had on hand. Love how customizable this recipe is!

  16. Lynn says...

    You’ve also simplified it by not tossing the first boiling water. I wonder if that was a washing step that isn’t needed with lentils now or if maybe it makes a nice texture difference in the end. Thanks for this inspiration!

  17. Rose says...

    lentils!! I love lentils! When recipes call for ground meat I have begun subbing in lentils to make the recipe vegetarian and YUM!

  18. Debby says...

    I love all of Jenny’s recipes that are recipes, but also choose-your-own-adventures and permission-to-do-whatever. I wish more people wrote recipes like this to inspire home cooks to just make an attempt :) thank you!

  19. Agnès says...

    The story around those lentils is every thing !

  20. Audrey says...

    I’ve had a bag of lentils in my pantry for months and wasn’t sure what to do with them. I’m definitely going to try this and some feta or goat cheese. thank you!

  21. Deirdre says...

    I would love a good lentil soup recipe. I really like the one that Pret A Manger has. Does anyone have a similar one? TIA.

    • Claire says...

      love seeing these recipes.. I was just remembering as I read them an excellent lentil soup served at a middle eastern restaurant near me. In the before times they would offer complimentary servings when the weather was cold. It was pureed – smooth as silk, and so delicious. I had never had lentil soup pureed like that before and now that I remember I may give it a try. either way -I will for sure check out all these recipes.

  22. Emily says...

    For some reason I never make this myself, but LOVE it when my mom makes warm lentil salad! She does basically your recipe, throws in some feta or goat cheese, and puts it on lettuce. Perfect.

  23. Aly says...

    Love the background story and I look forward to making this.

  24. Jimena says...

    I love lentil salad as well! I make a version similar to this but seasoned with cummin instead of mustard; and another one featuring grain mustard, onion and shredded carrot that I first ate while travelling in France as a backpacker.

  25. celeste says...

    Love the mom story behind this, even though I’m not a lentil girl. Crazy to think I could have impact on my kids’ friends someday.

  26. Linda says...

    Would this work with red lentils as well?
    I have a bag I’d bought for another recipe and am looking for ways to use it up.

    • Kris says...

      red lentils get really soft really fast. I think they wouldn’t hold up.

    • As Jenny mentioned in another comment, red lentils cook down to mush, so they work better in other recipe. Here’s a recipe for dahl made with red lentils that I have made many times: http://kiwiandbean.com/white-girl-dahl-indian-spiced-red-lentil-tomato-and-coconut-stew/ I also love a slow cooker stew made with red lentils, lots of bell peppers, and sausage (seasoned with rosemary and paprika) and a carrot lentil soup with garlic and ginger, pureed with an immersion blender.

    • Sarah says...

      They will be too mushy! Better for soups or dal. You can throw a handful into most stews or soups if you want to use them up, as long as you have at least 20 min of cooking time.

    • Katie says...

      Probably not. Red lentils don’t tend to hold their shape as well as the other kinds. You could google a tomato sauce with red lentils or a hearty soup. They are good for thickening things up.

    • MK says...

      Thank you for the red lentil recipe, Sarah! Looks AMAZING. Putting red lentils on my grocery list for next week!

    • liv says...

      I used red lentils for my salad today! It is a bit mushier than brown lentils, but I love the flavor.

    • Michelle says...

      Lentils have different flavor profiles and are quicker to cook but are often easily substituted to my non-expert perspective. Just reduce cooking time by tasting around 6-8 minute mark. You want tender bite but not mush. I love that red lentils a little sweeter than brown or green, so maybe you want a green bell pepper instead of the sweeter red or yellow she calls for here. Just to keep the contrast that makes a dish more interesting…. Just my take on your question.

  27. Ellen says...

    I love this so much! My heart swells when I think of the mothers of my friends and the way they influenced who, and how I wanted to be as an adult. My “channel” is more spaces than food, so it my home that bears the imprint of these vibrant, creative women who had my imagination “pinning” decades ahead of Pinterest or Instagram.
    *And I am totally making that lentil salad today!

  28. Kate says...

    In my house we’ve started saying, “Put an egg on it!” Whatever last bits of leftovers in the fridge – roasted veggies, even pasta – just throw an egg on top and it’s delicious!

  29. Eloise says...

    Lunch plans set for today, thanks (although I am lazy and will, as always, default to Trader Joe’s ready-to-eat version)!

  30. Jessica says...

    I feel like lentils become mushy when I’ve made them in the past. Any thoughts on why? Just cooking too long? Thanks!!

    • Jenny says...

      Are you using red lentils? They will for sure cook down to mush – great for soup or daal, not so much for something like this!

    • jane says...

      If you boil them they will overcook on the outside first and be mushy by the time the inside is tender. Low and slow for perfect lentils – never ever boiled. Same for rice, fyi. Pre-soaking them the morning of or overnight, will allow them to cook in 10 mins.

      I’ve made my version twice this last week it was so good. I’ll have to try this one too!

      Mine is super simple: saute a sliced leek and a diced large carrot in olive oil with salt til soft then toss in cooked lentils, (cook lentils while you’re chopping and sauteing). Drizzle generously with good olive oil, season with salt and pepper and enjoy! It is comfort food and as delicious at room temp as warm. I eat it warm over a big green salad.

  31. Ess says...

    Lentils have lots of protein!

  32. awads says...

    I have recently discovered that my 13 year old son has such a love for those “jammy” eggs that i can entice him to eat anything with those on top. It has been a game-changer! Even if he only eats a tiny bit of the real entree, at least he ate eggs. Warm lentil salad, here i come!