Lentil Salad with Beets, Apricots, Goat Cheese and Walnut-Balsamic Vinaigrette
During the summer I make many vegetarian salad dinners and because most people are so concerned about having a visible protein as part of every meal (I am not) I add a legume salad to appease the uninitiated (and also because I love legumes:). Lentils are wonderful legumes that pair well with many vegetables and dressings and are very easy to cook. For salads I prefer the smaller lentils, preferably the du Puy variety, because they retain their shape in cooking and have a nice chewy texture. The du Puy lentils originate from Puy in France, an area known for its volcanic soil that gives the lentils special nutty flavour. Generally the larger lentils are more starchy and cook to a soft texture and the smaller ones are less starchy and tend to retain their shape. I didn’t have du Puy lentils today so I used another small lentil variety I had in the pantry (bought in an Italian grocery store).
To soak or not to soak, that is the question. I tend to soak the lentils for 30 minutes or so before cooking but if you don’t have time, sort them for any unwanted stones and rinse well under running water.
After soaking I drain them, place in a pot and cover with plenty of cold water to cook. I keep testing (tasting) the lentils and as soon as they are done to my liking I remove them from the heat and drain. They keep in the fridge for a couple of days ready to be made into a salad at your convenience.
1 bunch (about 3-4) small red or yellow beets or a mixture of colourful beets
2 cups lentils, small variety (see note above)
2-3 apricots, sweet and ripe
4 oz goat cheese
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
a handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
Cooking the beets:
Trim the beet tops leaving about an inch of the green top attached. Wash to remove any soil clinging to them and trim the root end, leaving about an inch of the root intact.
Place a steamer basket in a pot, add beet and enough cold water to reach the bottom of the steamer basket and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a low boil, partially cover the pot and let the beets steam until they are just done and a knife slides into the thickest part easily. If you are cooking beets of various sizes remove the smaller beets as they finish cooking and continue with the larger beets until done. You can cool the cooked beets under cold water.
As soon as they have cooled enough to handle peel the skin off beginning at the top, scraping bits of skin from under the greens on the top end. Once peeled, set aside until ready to assemble the salad.
Cooking the lentils:
Sort out the lentils and remove any foreign matter such as stones etc. Rinse under cold water, then place in a bowl, add water to cover by an inch and leave to soak for 30 minutes.
Drain lentils and place in a 2 quart pot. Cover with 6 cups cold water and bring to a boil, uncovered.
Lower heat to a steady slow boil and cook uncovered until the lentils are cooked through but not mushy. Taste a few every now and then, they should have a nice chewy texture when done. When they are ready drain them and place in a bowl until ready to use.
Assembling the salad:
Drizzle some of the vinaigrette over the lentils and mix gently (see vinaigrette recipe below).
Cut the beets in half and then into slices lengthwise and add to lentils.
Cut the apricots into thin wedges and add to the lentils.
Add walnuts pieces and mix them in.
Drizzle remaining vinaigrette over everything (you don’t have to use all of the vinaigrette), then scatter goat cheese and chopped parsley on top.
Serve at room temperature with additional salt and a little freshly ground pepper.
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons walnut oil
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
Combine all the ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously until well blended.
Drizzle over salad as directed.