Beluga Lentils with Spinach and Feta
Beluga lentils have middle east origin and have been an integral part of mediterranean cuisine for centuries. When cooked, the small black legumes become glossy and resemble the black caviar of the Beluga whales, hence their name. They cook perfectly, holding their shape and retaining a nice texture, not becoming a mush like their brown relatives. For this reason they work particularly well in salads, when you want to retain the texture. In terms of flavours, they combine well with tangy goat cheese, salty feta, roasted peppers, nut oils and chopped nuts. I prepared this salad for a dinner I made recently in honour of a friend who keeps a vegan diet (I left the cheese in a separate dish to be spooned on by the non-vegan guests). I served it as part of a wider selection of vegetables and grains but it could easily form the main course of a simple lunch or dinner. The spinach I had that day was a wonderful, full flavour farm spinach I picked up at the market. I steamed it in the microwave with water still clinging to the leaves after washing. Clean and simple. This salad can also be served spooned over grilled bread that has been rubbed with a clove of garlic and drizzled with olive oil. Beluga lentils are one of the staples I always have in my pantry.
1 cup beluga lentils
3 cups water
4 cups spinach leaves, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons oil (walnut or olive oil)
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic crèma (✭ see note below) or sherry vinegar
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pistachios)
Rinse lentils but do not soak. Place in a 2 quarts pot with the 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, partially cover with a lid and cook until lentils are cooked through but still retain their shape. When ready remove from heat, drain excess water and set aside.
Rinse the spinach, chop roughly and place in a microwave proof glass dish. Cook in the microwave at high heat for 2 minutes until spinach is wilted but still bright green. Remove from microwave and drain excess water.
Combine spinach with the lentils and mix gently. Drizzle oil over and mix gently. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the balsamic crèma or sherry vinegar.
Crumble the feta cheese over, mixing some of it into the salad. Sprinkle the chopped nuts over and lightly mix them in, reserving some for the garnish.
Spoon the salad into a serving dish, crumble additional cheese over and sprinkle with remaining nuts.
Garnish with a few micro-greens if you have them or with baby arugula.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
✭ Balsamic Crèma is a thick and syrupy balsamic vinegar, sold usually in a squeeze-type bottles. It has a sweet flavour and is made from grapes must or juice blended with balsamic vinegar, reduced by heating I believe and then filtered. It adds a unique fruity, tangy sweet flavour that you do not get from a regular vinegar.