Deborah Madison's Lentil Salad with Mint, Roasted Peppers, and Feta Cheese

By • September 30, 2015 15 Comments

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Author Notes: By chopping your vegetables up finely before throwing them into the pot, they cook just as quickly as the lentils do (about 20 minutes), without turning to mush. This means they also get to stay put to become part of the salad. "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," Madison 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!'" Adapted slightly from The Greens Cookbook (Bantam Books, 1987).
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Serves 4 to 6

Lentil Salad Assembly

  • 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
  • Lemon Vinaigrette (see below)
  • 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. Rinse the lentils, cover them generously with water, and bring them to a boil with the carrot, onion, bay leaf, garlic, and salt. Simmer them until they are cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes. They should be tender, just a little firm, and still hold their shape. Drain the lentils and save the liquid for soup stock.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, roast the peppers over a flame until they are evenly charred, and put them in a covered bowl to steam for 10 minutes or so; then scrape off the charred skins with a knife. Do not rinse them under water or the flavorful juices will be lost. Slit them open, remove the veins and seeds, and cut them into squares.
  3. Prepare the vinaigrette and fold it into the warm lentils. Add the mint, herbs, and most of the peppers. Taste, and season with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt, if needed. Taste again just before serving and add a little more vinegar to brighten the flavors. Crumble the feta and gently stir it into the lentils.
  4. Garnish with the remaining peppers and drizzle some olive oil over the surface. A Rhone wine would nicely complement this salad. Either a zinfandel or a chardonnay would also be good.

Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 1 large lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Remove two wide strips of peel from the lemon with a vegetable peeler, and slice them into narrow slivers (alternately, grate finely with a Microplane). Put 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice in a bowl with the lemon peel, paprika, cayenne, garlic, and salt. Whisk in 6 tablespoons of the olive oil and taste. Adjust for tartness, adding more lemon juice or oil, whichever is needed.

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