Lentil Salad with Roasted Peppers and Mint

A sure crowd pleaser, this lentil salad is great picnic fare. I make it every year for a large picnic since it holds up well and can be spruced up at the last moment with the addition of a little sherry vinegar, fresh herbs and feta cheese.  The recipe came from the brilliant Greens Cook Book, Deborah Madison’s first and a classic. I have changed the proportions of the pepper, cheese and herbs but the idea is hers. 

I use those tiny black beads called beluga lentils, no doubt named for their resemblance to caviar. The dark color contrasts beautifully with the roasted red peppers, flecks of green herbs and white feta. After the lentils are cooked (early in the day of the picnic or the day before), they are tossed in a lemony vinaigrette and left to cool. When ready to assemble (minutes or even hours before serving), the peppers and herbs are folded in, the salad is sparked by the addition of sherry vinegar and feta cheese is crumbled to mix in and garnish the top.

Lentil Salad with Roasted Peppers and Mint from Deborah Madison

1½ c beluga (small black) dried lentils

1 carrot, peeled and diced into 1/8-inch cubes

1 small onion, diced into 1/8-inch pieces

1 clove garlic, minced

Bay leaf

½ tsp salt

Lemon Vinaigrette (see below)

1 red pepper

4 tsp chopped mint leaves

¼ c cilantro leaves, torn into small bits

Sherry vinegar

Salt and black pepper

4 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Rinse the lentils, cover them with water and bring them to a boil with the carrot, onion, garlic, bay leaf and salt. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until tender but still a little firm. Drain the lentils, discard the bay leaf, and save the liquid for soup.  Fold the vinaigrette into the warm lentils and set aside to cool. The  lentils can be made ahead to this point.

Meanwhile, roast the pepper over a flame (I skewer it on a carving fork over the gas burner of my stove), turning until all sides are charred. Place in a paper bag or covered bowl to steam for a few minutes and remove the blacked skin. Do not rinse. Chop the pepper into small squares (1/4-inch or so). The peppers can be made ahead.

When ready to assemble, fold the peppers into the lentils, reserving a few for the top. Season with sherry vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the herbs and most of the feta. Garnish the top with a little of the feta, reserved red pepper and sprigs of mint.

Lemon Vinaigrette

Juice and peel of one large lemon

¼ tsp paprika

Pinch cayenne pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ tsp salt

¼ c olive oil

Cut the lemon peel into tiny squares and combine with the other ingredients. Adjust taste (add more lemon juice or salt if needed).

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