A lentil salad is one of those year-around meals that I rely on for a delicious dinner when I’m tired from a busy day and want something substantial but easy to put together without too much fuss. Most lentil salads contain a mirepoix (equal parts chopped onion, celery, and carrot) of aromatics and are tossed with a French vinaigrette. The one I present today is gently warmed lentils, carefully tossed in red wine vinaigrette, then enriched with a garnish of browned, smoky / spicy kielbasa sausage rounds. To complete the meal, add a simple green salad and pour yourself a glass of red wine.
Lentil salads also make a great vegetarian meal, as shown here tossed with a sherry vinaigrette and garnished with little rounds of goat cheese. Click here for the recipe.
If you can find the tiny French green lentils known as lentilles du Puy, by all means use them. They are from the Auvergne area of France and well worth seeking out. Amazon sells them on line and I find that Fresh Market in the states always has them.
For this recipe today, I used, out of necessity, supermarket brown lentils. I thought I had a package of French lentils on my shelf and when I reached for them, surprise, they weren’t there. I must have used the last one and didn’t make a note to buy more. The salad turned out fine, but I think it is much better with the French lentils. The French variety has more flavor and they don’t tend to turn to mush as the supermarket variety tends to do. You can also see the difference by comparing the picture of the salad garnished with the goat cheese above to the one with the kielbasa, that the French lentils are dark brown and look firmer when cooked compared to the pale color & texture of the cooked supermarket ones. So - do as I say, not as I do. But - if you must use ordinary lentils, check them often while they simmer and take extra special care not to overcook them.
Lentil Salad Garnished with Smoky Kielbasa Slices
Adapted from Gourmet Comfort Food – serves 4 as a main course
2 cups lentils, preferably French green lentils (13 oz)
6 cups water
2 Turkish bay leaves
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled & cut into ¼-inch dice
2 celery ribs, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
½ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 pound smoked kielbasa, or other smoked sausage, sliced on the diagonal in ¼ inch thick slices (I used turkey kielbasa for less calories & fat)
Bring the lentils, water, and bay leaf to a boil in a 2 to 3 quart heavy saucepan, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are almost tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Check lentils from time to time to make sure they are not over-cooking. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, then simmer lentils, partially covered, until tender but not falling apart, another 3 to 5 minutes.
While the lentils simmer, cook the onion, carrots and celery in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 12” heavy non-stick skillet over medium-low heat, stirring, until vegetables are just softened, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add the garlic, dried thyme, and a teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground black pepper, then stir constantly about 1 minute more until garlic and thyme are incorporated into the vegetables, taking care that the garlic does not burn. Cover and set aside.
In a jar with a tight fitting lid, make the vinaigrette by adding the vinegar, mustard, and the olive oil along with a ¼ teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper, then shake well to emulsify and set aside.
When the lentils are done, drain well and discard the bay leaves. Add drained lentils to the cooked vegetables that were set aside in their skillet, then add the well shaken vinaigrette and the chopped parsley and stir to incorporate. Return the skillet to the heat and cook over low heat, stirring, until just heated through. Taste for seasonings and add salt or pepper if needed. Keep the lentils warm, covered.
For the garnish, brown the kielbasa in a 12-inch non-stick heavy skillet, turning once, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. (You may need to brown the kielbasa in batches.) If your kielbasa is too lean, add a little olive oil to the pan.
Serve the lentils gently warmed, garnished with slices of browned kielbasa. Cooked lentils will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. They can be gently reheated in a pan on the stovetop or in a microwave, but take extra care not to overcook them or let them scorch.