I think people can be divided into two categories: lunch buyers and lunch bringers. I used to be the former but New York City (and paying for childcare) have turned me into the latter. Every Sunday, I make something to eat during the week—sometimes a quiche, but more often a hearty bean salad. I used to find those sorts of recipes soooo time consuming—all that mincing, zesting, and grating, not to mention the herb washing, drying, and plucking—so many elements to prepare—but if I don’t get distracted by shiny things like my iPad, I can finish in ninety minutes, dishes washed and counters wiped. (Honestly, now that I’ve typed that sentence, I’ve realized that ninety minutes is, in fact, a long time—but I listen to NPR at the same time so it’s kind of meditative? Maybe?)
Anyway, making a weekly bean/grain salad means I’m always on the lookout for new bean/grain salad recipes because a girl can only eat so many cumin-dusted chick peas. Last week, I was delighted to scarf down a French lentil salad with feta cheese and pecans from David Lebovitz’s beautiful new cookbook, My Paris Kitchen.
The recipe reads like a tour of my pantry: French green lentils (smuggled from Paris), thyme, red wine vinegar, toasted pecans. I had a bunch of cilantro wilting in the fridge, which I used instead of parsley, and crumbled in a block of feta, as suggested. The result was a satisfying meal—nourrissant, as my French friend, Jérôme, might say—rich with nuts and the salty tang of feta.
I’m guessing David probably doesn’t share my lunch mania, but his new book is a treasure trove of brown bag ideas. I can’t wait to make sandwiches from his beet hummus. There’s poireaux vinaigrette, the leeks scattered with bacon and hard-boiled eggs. A quiche of ham, blue cheese, and pear. Roasted cauliflower dusted with dukkah, an Egyptian spiced nut mix (which I’d combine with quinoa, maybe). Israeli couscous tossed with pistachios and preserved lemon (add a can of chick peas and call it a meal). Wheat berry salad with roasted root vegetables and pomegranate vinaigrette. Many of these recipes come from the section titled “Sides” but all of them have enough star power for a hungry luncher.
The book also has Paris stories, cooking tips, and witty observations sprinkled throughout, not to mention recipes for meatier main dishes. The desserts are spectacular, featuring the sophisticated flavors you’d expect from David’s Chez Panisse pastry chef past, while easy enough for a nervous baker (like me) to tackle. The book echoes David’s food blog (which—in case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard of it—is wildly popular), but with MORE—more photos, more funny stories, more recipes. Indeed, this book an invitation into David’s kitchen… and how wonderful it is to find it as warm and delicious and creative a place as one always hoped.
I’ll leave you with a glimpse of the book’s most decadent side dish, a gratin of potatoes speckled with blue cheese and roasted garlic. We made short work of it for dinner one night, paired with a butcher-roasted chicken. It was heaven; even the baby loved it. My version of the lentil salad recipe is below, but to make the potatoes, you’ll have to buy the book :) You won’t regret it.
Serves four to six
250 grams French green lentils (Puy variety)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 small red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
Large handful cilantro leaves, chopped
1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil or walnut oil (or combination of the two)
1 small shallot, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper
Rinse the lentils and place them in a saucepan. Cover with water by 1 inch, add the bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil, then decrease to a simmer, cooking for 15 minutes. Add the vegetables and continue to cook until the lentils are tender, splash in a dash of hot water if things look dry. (David’s recipe says 5 to 10 minutes, but mine took 20. Test regularly.)
Make the vinaigrette in a large bowl (use the one you’ll dress the salad in). Stir together the vinegar, mustard, oil, and shallot. Season lightly.
Drain the lentils thoroughly. While they’re still warm, stir them into the vinaigrette— they’ll soak up all the delicious dressing. Add the cilantro, nuts, and feta cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings.