Bursting with sweet, sour, smoky and salty flavors, this salad is a riff on a delicious-sounding recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi (The Cookbook), I used my home-pickled sour cherries instead of his dried cherries, vinegar and sugar. A new crop of cherries is still months away, but I’m already plotting what to make with them based on the contents of my pantry. The cherries are wonderful by themselves, served alongside a pate or rillettes, as I did with duck around the holidays.
But what to do with the juice? It is too good to throw away. You can combine it with seltzer water, making a “shrub” to drink, which is probably what will happen after the cherries are consumed. Here it’s used as the basis for a salad dressing that infuses warm lentils with great flavor before they are combined with local smoky organic bacon and some local blue cheese that I bought last weekend at a Slow Food winter farmers’ market. Tossed with baby spinach, this could be a complete meal, although I garnished ours with a cube of pan-roasted wild salmon.
The dressing starts with cooking chopped shallots in olive oil until light brown. To that, I added pickled sour cherry juice and chopped cherries and cooked it down a bit. I thought it would be a little too sweet so I added a splash of red wine vinegar. Ottolenghi’s version used dried sour cherries, red wine vinegar and sugar. He also used a much greater proportion of bacon and cheese than I did.
Lentils with Sour Cherries, Bacon and Blue Cheese adapted from Ottolenghi
¾ c organic French lentils (such as Puy)
1½ tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
¼ c juice from pickled sour cherries (or 2 tbsp red wine vinegar and 2 tbsp water)
2 tbsp chopped pickled sour cherries (or chopped dried sour cherries and 1 tsp sugar)
Red wine vinegar
1-2 pieces of smoked bacon, cooked and drained
2 tbsp creamy blue cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Handful of spinach leaves
Rinse the lentils and place them in a pot, covered with twice the depth of water. Simmer for about 20 minutes until tender but not falling apart. Drain the lentils and toss with the warm dressing and set aside to cool.
Make the dressing while the lentils are cooking. Slowly cook the chopped shallots in olive oil until light brown. Add the pickled cherries and juice (or red wine vinegar, water and dried cherries) and cook slowly until slightly reduced.
When ready to serve, taste the lentils and adjust the seasonings with a little salt (remember that the bacon and cheese will add salt) and a splash of red wine vinegar. Cut the bacon and cheese into pieces and add to the lentils, along with freshly ground black pepper. Add a handful of spinach and toss. If too dry, add a little oil and vinegar or cherry juice.
Serves 2 as a meal or 4 as a side dish.