Warm French Lentil Salad

I call this earthy, delicious salad (which happens to be vegan!) a warm lentil salad because that sounds so nice, but it's just as lovely served room-temperature – and that makes it a perfect make-ahead dish. One of the many reasons I love lentils is that they cook more quickly than most dried legumes – usually about 20 minutes, sometimes a little more (it depends on the lentils). For this salad, cook them until they're tender, but not mushy. The best lentils for this dish are green ones, especially French green lentils. The best of these, from Puy, France, have their own A.C. (appellation contrôlée): lentille du Puy. Black (beluga) lentils also work well. You don't want to use brown, red or yellow lentils, all of which fall apart when they cook.

It's a very forgiving salad. Feel free to use a different type of oil (walnut oil would be delicious), or a different kind of vinegar – sherry vinegar, for instance. Throw in some diced roasted red peppers, chopped celery leaves or raw shallots, if you like, add a touch of ground cumin, or use basil instead of parsley. And if you're missing the bay leaf, or the garlic, or the thyme, don't worry – it'll still be delicious. Black pepper is fine to use in place of the chili flakes or Espellette or Aleppo pepper.

Serves 6 to 8.

Ingredients

5 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, cut into small dice

1 large or 2 small carrots, cut into small dice

2 stalks celery, cut into small dice

3 or 4 branches of thyme

1 peeled and smashed garlic clove

1 1/2 cups French green lentils, picked over and rinsed

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Big pinch of Espellette pepper, Aleppo pepper or red chile flakes

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Instructions

1. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mirepoix (the diced onion, carrot and celery), the garlic and the thyme, turn heat to medium-low, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic clove and the thyme branches, transfer the mirepoix to a large bowl and set aside.

2. Without cleaning the pan (because it's unnecessary), add the lentils and the bay leaf and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the lentils are just tender, about 20 minutes or maybe a little longer (depending on the lentils). Add water as necessary to keep them covered. Drain the lentils, remove the bay leaf and add the lentils to the bowl with the bowl with the mirepoix.

 

3. While the lentils are cooking, make a vinaigrette: Place the vinegar and salt in a small bowl, add the Dijon mustard and whisk together. Whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil.

4. Add the vinaigrette to the bowl with the lentils and mirepoix, add the Espellete (or Aleppo pepper or chile flakes) and the parsley. Stir everything together to combine well; taste and adjust for seasoning, adding salt, vinegar or pepper if necessary. Serve immediately, or let it come room temperature. You can also keep it chilled and covered in the fridge up to 3 days (though you might want to add the parsley at the last minute if you do this); bring to room temperature before serving.