This salad is good for many reasons. While the ingredients are inexpensive, the final dish is bright and healthy, and good looking I think, as far as lentil salads go. (I used green lentils from Le Puy, but use the lentils you have.) If you don't have ricotta salata, feel free to try another semi-soft and salty cheese, like feta. You can even add some chopped parsley, if that's your thing. If you happen to live in a part of the world not currently experiencing tundra-like coldness, this salad makes great picnic fare, as it benefits from a few hours relaxation. I've also brought it to work with me; it packs great texture and flavor in one compact container. —Cristina Sciarra
Prepare the veg: Heat the oven to 400F. While you're waiting it for it to warm, scrub the radishes clean and trim the ends. Peel the sweet potato. Dice both into small, bite-sized pieces. Toss them with a few healthy glugs of olive oil, salt and pepper.
Move the cubed radishes and sweet potatoes onto a baking sheet, and then move the baking sheet to the oven. Bake the vegetables for 30-35 minutes, tossing the vegetables every 10 minutes or so as you go, until they are very soft inside and partly blackened on the outside. Set the vegetables aside.
Prepare the lentils: Like you would with beans, pick over the lentils, and remove any rocks or bits that shouldn't be there. Rinse the lentils, and then move them to a pot with 2.5 cups of water. Smash one of the garlic cloves, and add that to the water, along with the bay leaf.
Turn the range to medium high, and let the water come to a boil. Once it does, reduce the heat to a simmer. The lentils will take anywhere from 20 minutes - 1 hour to cook, and you will likely need to add more water to the pot during cooking time. The lentils are done when they are softened and chewable. Strain the lentils, and add salt to taste.
Prepare the shallots: Remove the skins from the shallots, and then slice them thinly crosswise, into rings. Meanwhile, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the shallots. Stir as you go: you don't want the oil so hot that the shallots burn too quickly. You want the oil just hotter than if you were sautéing until transparent. This time, cook them past transparency, until they are soft (but browned) in some parts, and crisp in others, about 7-9 minutes. Turn the heat off, and set the shallots aside.
Make the vinaigrette: Spoon the Dijon into a small bowl. Run the remaining garlic clove through a microplane, and add this to the bowl. (I find this helps soften the harshness of fresh garlic. If you do not have a microplane, you can simply mince the garlic finely, and run some water over it.) Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the bowl, along with the sherry vinegar. Give everything a stir, to combine and to help dissolve the salt. Add the Meyer lemon juice and zest, and stir again. Finally, drizzle in 1/4 cup olive oil, whisking as you go to emulsify.
In a large bowl, mix together the radishes, the sweet potatoes, the lentils, and the shallots. Gently fold in the vinaigrette. At this point, I used a vegetable peeler to shave ricotta salata on top; add as much as you like. Add the pepitas. Stir gently to incorporate all the ingredients.
You can eat the salad right away, or wait a few hours. It is good warm or cold.
Cristina is a writer, cook, and day job real estate developer. She studied literature, holds an MFA in Fiction Writing, and completed the Basic Cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She lives in Jersey City with her husband--a Frenchman she met in Spain--and their sweet black cat, Minou. Follow her writings, recipes, publications and photography at theroamingkitchen.com.