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Today: The simplest lentil salad that just might ruin you for other recipes.
Psst --- these lentils have a secret.
At a glance, nothing seems special about this recipe. Just look at them. They look like lentils you boiled, then forgot to dress up -- something that would be served at an institution, or a bad yoga retreat, or by a cook who's given up hope.
Even the cooking methods don't scream genius. (You've probably simmered lentils with aromatics, and even tossed them in vinaigrette before.)
There's no way I would have noticed this recipe if it weren't for Food52er nogaga's advice.
As she told me, "I always want to turn this recipe over and see what's on the other side, but there's nothing there. It just is. The main challenge it presents is in not tampering with it, not giving in to the temptation to gussy it up somehow. You just have to trust -- and buy excellent lentils. That's it."
The genius seems to lie in Patricia Wells' perfect, restrained proportions, and its utter simplicity. I'm not sure I'll make lentils another way.
You could do this in your sleep: Rinse a pound of lentils, green or brown.
Simmer them with a bay leaf, a garlic clove, and a halved onion, studded with two cloves.
About 20 minutes later, drain, fish out anything that isn't a lentil, and dress it with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 4 of red wine vinegar -- uncommonly light for a French vinaigrette.
When you taste them just after mixing, you will think they're bland and watery. You'll be mad at me. But don't give up on them! Let the vinaigrette seep in for ten minutes. Salt them judiciously, sample, salt some more.
All of a sudden, the lentils will taste alive. The cloves, bay, onion and garlic, vinegar and oil are all there, tapping their toes, waiting for you to notice them. They're fragrant and substantive. You'll have a hard time putting down your fork.
True to my New Year's resolution, I've been making these lentils a lot, and eating them through the week. They're best served warm or room temperature -- a perfect lunch to take to work, a friend to all vegetables, a bed for all meats.
And they're a jumping off point for all kinds of new dishes. A high note: warming them in cream with bacon-braised fennel.
Show me a yoga retreat where they're serving that, and I will show you a downward dog. A wobbly downward dog. More lentils, please.
Patricia Wells' Green Lentil Salad
Recipe adapted very slightly from Bistro Cooking (Workman Publishing, 1989)
Makes 8 servings
1 pound imported French green or brown lentils
1 medium onion, halved and stuck with 2 cloves
1 garlic clove
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black peper
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom (except Patricia Wells from the French Institute Alliance Française)
The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites -- all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order your copy now.