Warm French Lentil Salad combines carrots, onions and celery with a tangy, pleasant shallot vinaigrette. It’s a delightful dish to enjoy on dark, cold winter days.
The first winter we were in Maine was foreign and unfamiliar. Darkness came earlier and it was darker than we’d ever experienced before. It was also cold, so very cold. Subzero temperatures and windchills were shocking.
Looking back on those days, it’s clear that the darkness played a big role in what we did. Cheesy Mondays, where we’d eat fancy cheeses, bread and veggies for dinner, became a weekly beacon. After-dinner runs to the local Y to swim offered a bit of brightness on those dark, cold nights. It was a constant battle to find joy and lighten our days.
Darkness is pervasive. It skews our perceptions and colors our days in drabness and disappointment, if we let it. And above all, I didn’t want that to happen.
It’s been several years now and winter doesn’t carry the same dread and shock it did then. We’re prepared with layers to keep us warm and plans to keep us going, even when the days are at their shortest. And though I know shorter days still have an impact on our moods, it doesn’t feel as shocking or dire as it did that first winter.
Over the years, I’ve found that cooking can also help with the mid-winter doldrums. While on the bright days of summer, cooking with fresh ingredients is practically second nature, in winter, it takes a little more effort — both mentally and practically.
Thankfully, several farmers’ markets in Maine operate year round. Some set up outside, no matter the weather, but others find indoor accommodations, making shopping a little more pleasant (if not a tad awkward). Storage vegetables — potatoes, onions, cabbage, carrots and the like are plentiful.
This salad is perfect for using some of those winter farmers’ market veggies in a fresh, satisfying dish. It starts with French lentils.
French lentils are small and green and hold their shape when cooked. I like that a lot about them — they make for a prettier dish. Brown and red lentils cook into a pleasant mush, French lentils (and beluga lentils too) remain little bits of meaty lentil goodness — perfect for salads.
Filled with bits of onions, carrots and celery and dressed with a variation on my very favorite dressing, Shallot Vinaigrette, this salad is best served warm. It’s a little tangy and totally satisfying.
And it tastes like a little bit of summer in the middle of winter — a nice repast from the darkness and cold.
French Lentil Salad
- 3/4 cup French lentils rinsed and picked over
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion small diced
- 2 carrots small diced
- 1 rib celery small diced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 small shallot pealed and finely chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 tsp honey
- Add the lentils to a small saucepan and cover with at least 1 1/2-inches of water. Add the bay leaf and set the pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until tender. Drain, and discard the bay leaf.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender (and a little golden brown in places). Remove from heat.
- Add the cooked lentils and vegetables to a serving bowl. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine the vinaigrette ingredients. Whisk thoroughly to combine. Pour over the lentils and vegetables and toss well. Season with salt and pepper, as desired.
- Enjoy warm or cool.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. Her latest cookbook is The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook, published by Rockridge Press, which focuses on quick, easy, from-scratch cooking for busy people. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.