Winter Lentil Salad with Warm Spices

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Boil as you would pasta (in a large, boiling salted kettle) :

1 cup green or brown lentils

The lentils are done when they are al dente like pasta, still firm to the tooth but not troublesome to bite through.

Drain lentils thoroughly and quickly toss with :

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 tbs vinegar of fairly light character (i.e. sherry, cider, malt, white wine, rice rather than red wine, balsamic or black)

Salt to taste

Add to lentils :

3 oz. celery and celery leaf, chopped fine

4 oz mild or sweet onion, sliced thin or same amount sharp onion soaked and squeezed in several changes of water

2 oz freshly chopped medium-heat green chile such as jalapeno, or mix of hotter and milder peppers

2 tsp ground cumin

1-2 tsp hot paprika or hot chile powder such as chile de arbol

1 tsp dry mustard

Stir thoroughly, allow a few minutes to settle, then taste and adjust seasonings. At this point add more olive oil and vinegar if necessary, it likely will be. This is very much an “add to taste” recipe, especially in terms of the dressing. I always add a bit at a time, let it settle, taste again. If it seems underwhelming when I am serving it, more can always be added. In particular, lentils will take a lot of both ingredients, much like the similarly mealy potato.

This can be served still warm as a side dish or a room temperature as part of a meal of mixed plates. It can be used as part of a meal of small plates or tapas, or as a side dish served with a more substantial meal. It is best as an accompaniment, rather than its’ own course. It fits well into meals of North African, Mediterranean, Indian, or non-denominational Vegetarian slant. It is also excellent served with a hearty winter roast and root vegetables.

I call it ‘warm’ rather than spicy in terms of the balance represented in this recipe. It can be freely made “spicy,” by simply adding more chiles and dry spices. This is a very adjustable recipe, and will often be altered or added to based on what I am serving it with. Garnish it with something complementary to the meal that it accompanies : fresh cilantro for Indian or Southeast Asian fare, an extra splash of olive oil and sprigs of parsley for Greek or Italian, etc.

Just as any experimentation in garnishing will likely work with such a simple, adaptable recipe, one could go further and incorporate all kinds of ingredients at hand to the salad itself : Some wild mushrooms, quickly sautéed with oil and thyme. A couple of small cucumbers, deseeded and neatly chopped. Some tahini or miso paste. A squeeze of lemon and a pair of minced anchovies. Crispy fried slices of garlic. Black walnuts and a splash of walnut oil. And so on…

In a similar vein, this is a recipe meant for constant tasting and adjusting by the cook. I never measure any of these ingredients when I make this kind of salad except when testing a recipe. I am always tasting, adjusting, tasting. So should you, when making a dish like this. Taste each time you add a new ingredient or three, taste and adjust accordingly. Trust your judgement. Trust your taste. You’re the one who decides what’s best.

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