Editors' Picks

Patricia Wells' Green Lentil Salad

January  9, 2013

Every week -- often with your help -- FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The simplest lentil salad that just might ruin you for other recipes.

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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. 

  patricia wells

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


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)



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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • margaret learner
    margaret learner
  • Nataleigh Vann
    Nataleigh Vann
  • geneva mommy
    geneva mommy
  • AntoniaJames
  • claireinaustin
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. 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."


margaret L. April 8, 2015
As my lentils cook, I write this. I've been adding to my bean repertoire since I learned that Campbells actually come from the earth. (I had a lot to learn) But today I have a question for Patricia Wells, or anyone. I have been eating my lentils raw, soaked over night (or several) soaking several times a day. The story suggests we get Really Good Lentils and. Here is the thing. I can buy a bag from my grocer and get them to sprout in a day or two. But my good green lentils from my trusted organic store the lentils can go several days and never sprout. So, How do we know whats really good?
Nataleigh V. April 6, 2015
Served with green curried vegetables. Really good. Look forward to using the rest of the lentils the rest of the week. Did not have a bay leaf so substituted with a star anise for some flavor in the lentils.
geneva M. February 5, 2013
as one person said Lentils are an amazing source of protein, fiber, folate, iron and magnesium...as a salad you can even cook up a nice batch and have in the fridge for several day lunches....you can add cut up veggies such as cooked leeks, carrots, peppers, etc....you can't much healthier and it's filling!!!! one salad that will leave you satisfied...
AntoniaJames January 22, 2013
Alas, these seemed a bit flat on the second day. Wondering if anyone else had that experience. If you are planning to make ahead to serve guests, you may want to give this recipe a test drive to confirm that you like these lentils as much after a day or two. They were fabulous when freshly made. ;o)
drbabs January 22, 2013
I agree also. I ended up putting the leftovers in a big salad.
AntoniaJames January 22, 2013
I had a fair bit of broth left over, which I saved. Now I'm glad I did. Half of the rather large quantity of uneaten lentils will go into a soup with kale, tomatoes, sage and the usual aromatics, with the other half to be used in a salad with some roasted sweet potatoes I have on hand "Sally's Special Sweet Potatoes", posted here), parsley, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and a maple syrup, cider vinegar and mustard vinaigrette. (Can you tell that I don't mind a bit having all these cooked lentils on hand?!) ;o)
AntoniaJames March 29, 2013
Okay, for those of you who were disappointed with how these lost their flavor the next day or later than that: The solution is so simple. Once the lentils are cooked, set aside the ones you don’t plan to eat right away, but do so in their broth, with the bay leaf, garlic and onion. That way, they’ll have the benefit of a continuing infusion. Cover and store until about 30 minutes before you’re ready to eat them (on Day 2 or 3 . . . I typically freeze legumes after Day 3.) Then, take them out of the fridge and warm them up, very thoroughly, in the broth, with the bay leaf and onion. Actually, there probably won’t be much broth, as they legumes will continue to soak it up. Drain, remove the bay leaf, garlic and onion, and continue with Step 3 of the recipe, as you did on Day 1, adding the vinegar and oil and letting it sit. Enjoy!! ;o) P.S. I'll post an abbreviated version of this on the recipe.
AntoniaJames January 22, 2013
Made these today. Excellent recipe. Definitely a keeper. ;o)
claireinaustin January 13, 2013
anybody know how about how many cups of lentils in a pound? I have some in a big jar but don't know how much I need for this recipe.
AntoniaJames January 22, 2013
About 2 1/3 cup. ;o)
SwissKiki January 13, 2013
Fabulous! I used Italian brown lentils. Then I tossed this with roasted bell pepper, olives, canned tuna, oregano and fresh chopped garlic to make a salad. It's really just like I've had in the restaurants in Paris!
Macedoine January 11, 2013
I tried this, and mustered up all the willpower I could manage not to tweak, add, or otherwise substitute. (Okay, fine. I did use balsamic instead of red wine vinegar.) I have to say, all the lentil rapture in your introduction is no exaggeration - these are simply sublime. They're incredibly addictive - and I love that I'm feeling that way about something that's actually a healthy meal, as opposed to the usual suspects of baked goods, chocolate, or dessert!
fhp January 11, 2013
Oh Dear
Balsamic raises its beastly head again and again and again.
How can I extoll the virtues of French (underlined) not Italian, French Red Wine Vinegar
Emelie T. January 10, 2013
Years ago I had a fabiulous lentil salad with poached eggs and some greenery at a small cafe in Paris. Best lunch ever and I have been trying to replicate it at home ever since with no luck. Couldn't get the flavor - until I tried this recipe last night. Absolutely dead on and just as good as I remembered it. Thanks so much.
darksideofthespoon January 10, 2013
I've been waiting for a french lentil recipe! This was AMAZING, I keep going to the fridge for sproonfuls. Last night I made a side dish of Gena's Kale and Lentil salad - delicious. My husband cleared the plate, which is amazing considering his small aversion to lentils, kale AND purple cabbage!

I might poke ONE more clove in the onion next time, just because I love clove.
Heather B. January 10, 2013
Delicious! It was very hard for me to not add anything to the recipe, but it was totally on spot. Thank you!
mayK January 10, 2013
I triedt his recipe with Beluga-lenils, these are small black lentils, who hold there shape after cooking and have a nutty consistensy/taste. I cook them for 12-15 min and let them cool in the cooking liqiud,then dressing them with olive oil + vinegar + salt/pepper.
Thank you so much for this recipe and for the Mujaddarra-recipe, it´s really has changed my use of lentils:))
Cafe42 January 10, 2013
I have always trusted Patricia Wells! Good on you!
Regine January 9, 2013
Sorry for the typos. Steamed not stealed. Powder not powdet. Generous not geberoud.
Regine January 9, 2013
Made this tonight. Very good. I ate it with stealed white rice. You really need to wait 10+ minutes for the flavors to really go into the lentils. I also added some garlic powdet. I find that you must be quite geberous with salt to really appreciate this dish. Even my 8 year old liked it and ate it just like that.
Alexandra S. January 9, 2013
These sound wonderful! One question for anyone out there — do you recommend a good online source for lentils? I have few nice shopping options nearby, the best being Wegman's, which does not sell a nice variety of lentils. I would be willing to pay for shipping for such a delicacy. Can't wait to try these!
Nancy P. January 10, 2013
We have beluga, Spanish Pardena (better for soup) and French Green lentils from Zursun in Idaho online at www.lacuisineus.com
Alexandra S. January 10, 2013
Thank you, Nancy! I will check out that site. Never heard of it. Sounds awesome!
AntoniaJames January 9, 2013
Cannot wait to try this. Wells is one of my favorite food writers, ever. Like others here, I'm trying to figure out how on earth I've missed this one. ;o)
kasia S. January 9, 2013
I wish I wasn't home sick with the flu, I'm just missing the red wine vinegar ( need a new one) and cloves :( but this weekend I am SO making it, I'm always amazed how vinegar improves all the other flavors and how well it's used in French cooking - definitely not an ingredient to miss. Thank you for this wonderful post, I'm going to make this salad and get the cookbook asap!
Aimless January 9, 2013
I'll try this because I love lentils and it's so easy, but I can't imagine that it will beat out Mujaddara with Spiced Yogurt by Rivka. Those are some lentils.
kasia S. January 9, 2013
I just looked up the Mujaddara with Spiced Yogurt, wow does it look tasty, and it uses a lot of onion haha, it has to be good, thanks for mentioning it, I will make it as well!
stinkycheese January 9, 2013
One of my favorite lentil recipes. I've been making this ever since I got Patricia's book many years ago. So glad to see it on Food52!