Lentils have long been a staple ingredient in my kitchen. We eat them at least once a week and my pantry is always stocked with at least three varieties of this dried pulse. In winter, escarole, sausage, and spices get added to a simmering pot of lentils to make hearty stews. In warmer months, lentils remain a favorite, but I prefer to serve them at room temperature or even chilled as in this asparagus and lentil salad with a lemon-walnut vinaigrette.
Here, flavor comes not through a long simmer on the stove, but rather through marination in the fridge while you enjoy longer days and warmer temperatures. These lentil salads are an ideal accompaniment to grilled meats or fish, although more often than not they become my lunch for the week. Once made, I pull them out for a healthy midday meal that leaves me satiated, rather than full, for the rest of my day.
The star player in this salad is the French green lentil, but in a nod to the approach of spring asparagus, lemon, and mint play supporting roles. Feta adds creamy saltiness, while a nutty walnut vinaigrette subtly pulls all the flavors together. If serving this salad as a side dish, pairing it with a hard-boiled egg would be overkill. But if serving this salad as a main course for lunch or a light dinner then a hard-boiled egg is a terrific companion and worth the extra effort to make. Happy cooking!
Lentil & Asparagus Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette – Printer Friendly Recipe
Serves 6 as a side dish or 4 for lunch
Lentils come in many varieties. For this salad, I use French green lentils as they hold their shape well even after cooking. Black (also known as Beluga) lentils would also work nicely. Avoid red lentils; while gorgeous when dried, they turn mushy after cooking.
For the lentils:
1 ½ cups French green lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 dried Turkish bay leaf
For the salad:
1 lb asparagus stalks, rinsed and ends trimmed
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
4 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup roughly torn fresh mint leaves
Optional: Hard or soft-boiled eggs
For the vinaigrette:
6 tablespoons walnut oil
2 tablespoons (from about 1 ½ lemons) fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Put the lentils in a medium saucepan and cover with at least two inches of water. Add the thyme sprigs and bay leaf and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a strong simmer and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils are just tender. If lentils appear to need more water during cooking, simply add more and extend the cooking time by a few minutes.
While the lentils cook, steam the asparagus for about 2 to 6 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus. When the desired tenderness is reached, immediately remove the asparagus stalks from the steamer and rinse them under cold water until cool. Drain and then cut the steamed stalks into 1-inch pieces.
Combine the asparagus pieces with the red onion in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Set aside.
Drain the lentils and remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Let the lentils cool for about 5 minutes before adding them to the bowl with the asparagus and onion. Drizzle the lentils with the walnut vinaigrette and toss everything together to combine. Stir in the feta and the torn mint leaves (if planning to refrigerate, add the fresh mint leaves right before serving). Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed.
Serve immediately or refrigerate. If planning to serve the salad chilled, be sure to check the seasonings before serving. You perceive salt more when things are hot so what tasted perfect when first combined at room temperature may taste bland and need more salt after chilling.
If serving this salad for lunch, consider pairing it with a soft or hard-boiled egg.