Friday, May 18, 2012

Mama-made-easy: Lentil Salad

I have simple white wedding china, that we use everyday, because the food never clashes with the dishes, and the bright white back drop always makes the dish pop and look even more appetizing. In other words, how food looks is important to me as a cook. It's part of the enjoyment. Well this dish, whose colors resemble a bad 70's polyester, is no looker, but it does have several redeeming factors: every time I describe it my mouth waters, it's main ingredients are very inexpensive, there are lots of way to substitute items for whatever you have on hand, it's packed with protein even though it's meat free, it is perfect to make ahead, and great for large crowds or potlucks, and would be great for picnics. Have I warmed you up to the idea yet?
Lentil Salad with Oranges and Cranberries (or lots of Other Things)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups lentils
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 orange, or grapefruit, or can of mandarin oranges (more than one is good too)
  • 1/3 cup dried or fresh cherries, or dried cranberries, or raisins
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • optional: 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, or mixed salad greens, or spinach or 1 grated carrot
Boil water, rice, and salt in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan, uncovered and undisturbed, until steam holes appear and surface looks dry. Reduce heat to very low and cook, covered and undisturbed, 15 minutes or more. (The length of time it takes to cook will depend on the type of rice you have. You can always cook it according to the directions on the package instead. I found I liked this method though because it gives you a nice dry, chewy rice which gives the salad a lovely texture. I would highly recommend brown rice, and making two cups instead of one. Use the extra covered in milk and cinnamon sugar for breakfast the next morning, and put it in fritatta the for lunch, or make stir fried rice for dinner, or...well you get the idea. It will save you work tomorrow.)
While rice cooks, simmer lentils in water to cover by 2 inches 18 to 20 minutes, or until just tender, then drain.
Finely grate zest from orange (I skip this part unless I happen to have organic oranges and time, which I don't) and cut away remaining peel and pith. Cut sections free from membranes and cut sections into 1/2-inch pieces (or if you are a mama in a hurry, open a can of mandarin oranges, drain and dump it in). Toss warm rice with lentils, vinegar, lemon juice, orange, zest, cranberries (etc), oil, and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature, or cold the next day.

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