Posted by: CJW | March 30, 2010

Warm Lentil Salad

John and I just got back from a quick, three-day weekend trip to Salt Lake City, our home for four years before we moved here to Seattle. We packed the weekend tight with visits with friends and trips to a prioritized list of favorite restaurants and sites. The weather was beautiful, the company was awesome, and I find myself afterwards a bit on the emotional side. It’s just so strange when you visit some place you used to call home, seeing how the land and your friends back there are both the same yet a little different and thinking about the person you were then and how you’ve changed into the person you are now. No bad changes observed, mind you (other than the fact that the mall that housed the no kill animal shelter from where we got our dog is now completely decimated), but I guess I get a little wistful since I wasn’t there to see those changes as they happened first hand.

It takes an old environment sometimes to help me notice changes in myself. We managed to squeeze in breakfast at Ruth’s, a favorite diner made from an old train dining car that sits near the entrance of Emigration Canyon. There is no finer place to be than out on the patio on a summer weekend morning, enjoying the warmth and light of the outdoors but the gentle breezes of the canyon and eating an amazing breakfast. The diner’s changed a bit– glossy tiled walls, large bathrooms that can actually accommodate the sizes of the crowds the restaurant draws, and apparently the addition of bloody Mary’s (alleged to us since John was told he couldn’t order one before noon.) Luckily, some things remained the same like the big, gorgeous patio (too bad it was too cold when we got there so we were seated inside) and the mile high biscuits with raspberry preserves that greet you when you sit down.

I perused the menu trying to remember what I would always order when we went there, and it occurred to me– I ordered a sunrise hash, a mix of griddled home fries, mushrooms, peppers, and tons of cheese but no eggs. I loved Ruth’s so much because I could order a savory breakfast that didn’t have eggs. Blech– eggs. I had spent most of my life hating them.

But that’s changed since living here in Seattle. Cooking and openness to being really experimental in the foods I taste really came into focus for me when I started law school as I found it to be the thing that would relax me and give me time to enjoy with John. Somewhere along the line that included falling in love with poached eggs. I remember seeing recipes for French salads that were a mix of crunchy greens, tossed with a lemony vinaigrette and topped with crispy bacon and a custardy egg, the soft yolk gently spilling over the salad, adding flavor and a silky texture to the dressing. For some reason, I wasn’t grossed out and instead was intrigued. I craved that salad. I had to have that salad NOW.

Which is why I make so many things with poached eggs, I suppose. I also can’t get enough of Benedicts now, no matter what variation is used. I think my aversion to eggs before was probably when scrambled, or at least hard scrambled eggs which is what the bacteriaphobic breakfast joints I’d visit as a child were doing. Okay– admittedly still, scrambled eggs or omelets are a bit of a problem for me unless there is a ton of cheese or buttered toast to distract me. But a soft poached egg? Put it on anything– I’ll eat it.

This lentil salad came together after I saw one being offered on a menu at a local restaurant. That salad was a soft pile of warmed lentils on a bed of spinach and little pieces of bacon. Intriguing, given it was a cold winter night, but not intriguing enough to distract me from a bowl of soup to open my dinner. Probably, when I think about it, because the salad didn’t have a poached egg. Without tasting that restaurant’s version, I immediately started thinking about what I would do to make a lentil salad– serve it on hearty, slightly bitter radicchio and of course, have that custardy egg, all in the name of how I could make a filling, comforting winter meal. And that’s what I did. And it was good. Very good. Change is good.

Note: I made this salad as a light lunch for two on an afternoon before a big holiday dinner. We had enough lentils to make this into a meal for four, so if you’re feeding that many, increase the salad greens, bacon, eggs, and dressing accordingly. If you’re vegetarian, you can leave out the bacon and still have just as hearty of a salad.

  • 2 cups dried green lentils
  • 3 medium carrots, divided
  • 2 large stalks of celery, divided
  • 1 medium onion, halved plus half of a second medium onion, thinly sliced into inch long half-moon slivers.
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 4 cups vegetable stock, plus water if necessary
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4-5 stalks fresh thyme
  • 2 pieces thick cut bacon, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 2 small heads radicchio lettuce, chopped
  • olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 eggs
  • white wine vinegar

Carefully pour the lentils into a strainer or colander, sorting through them as you do to pull out any little pebbles that might have accidentally found their way in there. Rinse the lentils and let them drain. Place them in a medium sauce pan with two halves of 1 onion, 1 carrot chopped into quarters, 1 celery stalk chopped into quarters, 2 bay leaves, and a couple of stalks of thyme. Add the vegetable stock. Bring this to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer for 30 -45 minutes or until lentils are softened but still firm to the bite. Add more water if necessary to keep the lentils covered if the liquid boils away before the lentils are soft. Drain the lentils and set aside.*

Heat 2 tsp olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until bacon is crisp and cooked through. Drain on a paper towel lined plate and set aside.

Either pour out the bacon fat or add more olive oil so you have about 1 tbsp of fat in the skillet in which you cooked the bacon and heat this over medium heat. Add the thinly sliced onion and saute until onion has softened, about 4-6 minutes. While onion cooks, dice the remaining 2 carrots and celery stalk. Add these and the minced garlic to the skillet and continue to cook for another 5-7 minutes or until the vegetables have softened but do not brown. Remove the thyme leaves from the remaining stalks of thyme and lightly chop. Pour the lentils into the skillet and add the thyme and remaining bay leaf. Heat the mixture, stirring occasionally or until the lentils are heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low to keep the lentils warm while you poach the eggs.

Wash and spin dry the spinach and radicchio. Make the dressing by whisking 3 tbsp olive oil into the lemon juice, mustard and honey then season with about 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8th tsp pepper in the bottom of a small bowl. Plate the mixture of spinach and radicchio and drizzle the dressing on each plate to taste.

Take a large skillet that has a tight-fitting lid and fill this with water until the water is about 1 inch from the top. Cover with the lid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat until the water is shimmering and rippling but no longer boiling. Add a splash of white wine vinegar and a couple of dashes of salt. Carefully crack the eggs into the poaching liquid, adding each egg slowly into the pan so as to give  some of the egg white time to set and create a bed of sorts for the yolk which you don’t want to break. Turn off the heat and cover the pan with the lid. Let this sit for 3 minutes exactly.** While eggs cook, pile about 1/2 a cup of the lentil mixture on top of each plate of salad greens. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, making sure to drain the eggs completely before setting one egg each on top of the lentils. Sprinkle on the bacon and serve.

CSA Count: 2

Onions, garlic

Garden Count: 2

Bay leaves, thyme

*Divide up the work! I simmered the lentils the night before… accidentally really since I had planned on making these salads for dinner but since John got home late from work and didn’t find the idea of lentil salad to be very appetizing, we ended up going out to eat that night. Believe me– after eating this salad for lunch the next day, he changed his mind about how appealing this salad can be. But I digress– just turn off the heat and let the lentils cool in their cooking liquid for an hour or so before sealing up in an air tight container and refrigerating until you’re ready to use. The lentils will then be heated up for the salad as directed in the recipe above.

**When making more than one egg per person or making more plates of this salad for 4 people, I usually set the timer for about 2 minutes and 45 seconds, then remove the eggs in the order in which I set them starting with the egg that first went into the poaching liquid and ending with the last egg that went in. The goal is to give each egg 3 minutes in the hot water so it has the right amount of time to set but not overcook.

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