I think 2010 was a difficult year for a lot of people. I'm still spinning from all that happened this year; there was so much. A real roller-coaster ride, a whirlwind, and a tornado all wrapped up in one. I'm still reeling, but I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it's because the year is coming to an end, or it might just be the approach of the holiday season, but it no longer feels like a downward spiral, more like a direction-less push and pull -something akin to the wash cycle in a washing machine. I just can't wait to find a strip of dry land so that I can finally stand firm on my two feet. But for that to happen I have to know where I want to be going. Wherein lies the problem: I no longer know where I want to be heading; things seem to have been engulfed in a haze, and I no longer can see clearly. I'm keeping my eyes wide open for an arrow sign, pointing to anywhere.
When I get into an emotional knot, I turn to food. Not to say that I'm an emotional eater -quite the opposite, actually- cooking, especially for others, focuses my mind, occupies my hands, and my thoughts get filed away. Perhaps not the most mature way to deal with one's problems, but it has allowed me to deal with difficulties in a calmer mind frame.
Warm Lentils and Beet Salad
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup/ 210g lentils
1 medium sized beet, cooked
1 small onion
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp or 5 sprigs thyme
½ tsp fennel seeds, optional
1 large clove garlic
¼ cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced or 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard, optional
salt and pepper
Sift through the lentils to remove any obvious foreign object (dirt clod, rocks, or wheat berries).
Pour lentils in a large saucepan with enough water to cover by at least 5cm (2"). Add cumin seeds, thyme, garlic clove and fennel seeds, if using. Bring up to the boil.
Meanwhile, peel and cube the beet, carrot and onion. Set aside, separately.
When the pot of lentils is boiling, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cover.
Let cook for 10-15 minutes. The lentils should be cooked, but still firm. If they are too hard to chew comfortably, cook for an extra 5 minutes. However, they will continue to cook while they cool off.
Remove from heat, but do not drain.
Remove from heat, but do not drain.
In another pot, or pan, heat oil. Add onions.
When the onions are partially cooked, add the carrots. Sauté for about 5 minutes.
Drain the lentils over the onions and carrots, pouring just enough water to cover the vegetables.
Cook uncovered until the carrots are tender, and most of the water has evaporated.
Drain the lentils completely, and discard cooking water. Add lentils to the onions and carrots, warming them through.
Stir in vinegar/ lemon juice and mustard -if using- until everything is combined.
Remove garlic clove, or crush it into the dressing.
Add the cubed beets. Mix, garnish with some chopped green-stuff, if you have some on hand.
It is really important that you do not overcook the lentils, otherwise they will only be good for soup. The better lentils for this salad are the brown and green ones; pink lentils (the ones in the top picture) are pretty lovely, but as they are peeled, they can easily overcook, if you absolutely want a pink lentil salad, check the legume's doneness after 5 minutes. Serve the salad as a starter, as the partner to a roast, or even as the star of your meal. Make sure you have plenty of crusty bread at the ready, as you will want to sop up all the juices and dressing.
This lentil salad is a variation on a classic French recipe that usually calls for cured pork strips (lardons) or disks of cooked sausage. If you want to add the meat, you can omit most of the oil (use just enough to get the meat going in the pan), and use the rendered fat to sauté the onion and carrot. The pork products do add extra savouriness and a heady smokiness, but are not necessary. The beets bring their own earthy goodness, and combined with lentils, they pack a real tonic punch, providing a healthy shot of much needed iron. Any left-overs will only improve in flavour, and are great brown-bagged. However, if you opted to add meat to the salad, it will need to be re-heated, otherwise the fat will be unappealingly congealed.
While red wine vinegar is the classical acid in this recipe, lemon juice will add a seasonal brightness; you can add extra winter pizzazz with some orange zest and juice. Vary the flavours by using celery root or parsnips instead of the carrots and onions; substitute sprouted beans for part of the lentils. The sky -or, at least, your fridge and pantry- is the limit to the flavour combinations. You can even leave the beetroot out... Nevertheless, I do believe they go beautifully with lentils: their earthiness is grounding, and only serves to emphasize the lentils' gravitational qualities. This salad, for me, is like having my two feet firmly set on stable ground. An anchor in stormy weather. My little bit of dry land.