As Madison shows us, by chopping up the vegetables finely, they cook just as quickly as the lentils do (roughly 20 minutes), creating a quick vegetable stock without turning to mush. This means they also get to stay put and become part of the salad. It sounds so obvious—why don't we always do this?
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This is why: We usually discard the vegetables from making stock as used-up byproducts because we've simmered them to death, even in economical all-in-one recipes like classic chicken soup. They've given all they have to give: their flavors wrung into the broth, any admirable texture consumed in the process.
But with smaller vegetable bits and a quicker cooking time, every scrap can be put to use and nothing goes to waste. (In fact, their usefulness is threefold, since you also save the resulting broth to make soup another day!)
But more impressive than even Madison's cooking efficiency is the overall effect of this salad, vibrant and assertive. That sturdy base of lentils, carrots, and alliums becomes a springboard for rowdier flavors: the punch of roasted red peppers and crumbled feta, a paprika- and lemon-spiked vinaigrette, swells of fresh herbs.
It's a transitional salad for the season, the bridge from lighter scatterings of lentils with radishes and arugula to richer stews and chilis. And I'm going to plant my flag that chips and dips are not perfect tailgate food—this is. The salad's flavors get better over time sitting at room temp, and it won't send your blood sugar plummeting just as you finish your second beer.
"This is a salad I used to serve at Greens," the pioneering farm-driven restaurant where Madison was the founding chef, "with some trepidation, because at that time vegetarian food was still seen as lentils, lettuce, and stodginess," she wrote to me.
"I wanted a salad that was brighter somehow, and this was it. It seemed to work, because this comment came back from the dining room to the kitchen: 'You’ve done for lentils what Kennedy did for the presidency!'"
"This extravagant comparison might be lost on those who weren't around when Kennedy became president and brought with him a new excitement and glamour to the White House, but it meant a lot to me at that time and it still makes me smile."
1 1/2 cups small French lentils (Puy or beluga) 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced into 1/8-inch squares 1/2 small onion, finely diced 1 bay leaf 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 medium red bell peppers 2 teaspoons chopped mint 3 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs: parsley, marjoram or cilantro, thyme Pepper Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar, to taste 8 ounces feta cheese Olive oil, for garnish
1 large lemon 1/4 teaspoon paprika Pinch cayenne pepper 1 clove garlic, minced 1/4 teaspoon salt 6 to 8 tablespoons olive oil
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]. Thank you to Food52er WHB for this one!
Photos by Mark Weinberg
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."