Lentil and Kale Salad

In the spirit of this blog: ugly picture, truly delicious…I promise.

This salad hails from Bon Appetit and caused me to vow to: 1) infuse more oils, and 2) use more cumin seed in all things. This salad is good as a main dish by itself, but if you want to mix it up, would be good with some bread, or a light soup if you want to be eating two things.

Note 1: Don’t swap out the lentil type recommended here, for once I do not condone a substitution! You want the small french (puy) or black lentils, not brown, red or green lentils that don’t hold their shape as well.

Note 2: the better your feta, the better your salad. Feta is one of those ingredients where the quality takes your dish from “whatever” to “holy shit” really fast. Bottom shelf feta tastes like not much. Middle shelf feta tastes like feta. Top shelf feta tastes like feta is supposed to taste and you just never knew it till you had it. Maybe you all grew up with the best feta, but I sure didn’t. Here’s a handy little guide, but bottom line: get one in brine. I like Bulgarian Feta, it’s creamy, salty, tangy, makes your mouth pop good.

Ingredients: Serves 4 as a main dish

  • 1 bunch tuscan kale (the color and texture of tuscan/dino kale is preferable, but any kind will do, per always!)
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds (chopped or slivers)
  • 3 scallions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1.5 cups french (puy) lentils or black lentils
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 5 oz feta
  • 1 cup castelvetrano olives

Preparation:

Cut your kale off the stems and then thinly slice into ribbons (honestly, cut however you want into bite size pieces, but the ribbon-approach is lovely because the size of your kale bites will match the size of the other ingredients). Transfer kale ribbons to a large bowl, sprinkle with a few pinches of salt, and then MASSAGE. This breaks down the kale so it will be less tough, and then you can say your salad was made by elves.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil, and while that is happening, prep your infused oil!

Thinly slice your scallions and separate the white and green parts. Reserve the green parts for later, and put the white parts into a small skillet. Smash and peel 4 garlic cloves, and add those to the skillet (no need to chop!). Thinly peel or slice 3-4 long strips of lemon rind off your lemon rind (a vegetable peeler works great) and add the rind strips to the skillet. Add 1/2 cup of olive oil to the skillet.

When your salted pot of water is boiling, add your french or black lentils and simmer, uncovered for 20-30 minutes. Taste them periodically as you get close to 20 minutes, you want them to still retain some bite (like an al dente pasta), if they overcook they’ll tend to taste a bit mushy and the salad won’t have quite as much amazing texture. When cooked to your liking, drain into a colander.

While the lentils are cooking, smash 1 cup of castelvetrano olives with the back of a knife or bottom of a cup. They’ll split off the pit fairly easily, and you’ll remove the pits and break up the olives roughly with your hands so you get nice craggy halves and quarters of the olives.

Heat the skillet with your infused oil on medium, stirring constantly until the lemon rind starts to curl and the garlic starts to brown (3-5 minutes). Add the coarsely chopped almonds and continue to stir till the almonds are browning. Then remove from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon cumin seeds and 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes. The residual heat will help the spices “bloom” and taste amazing (the fresher your cumin seed and pepper flakes, the better….).

After 1-2 minutes of letting the spices bloom, strain mixture through a mesh sieve to separate the nut/lemon/garlic/scallions from the oil. The oil is GOLD. Spread the spiced nut mixture onto a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt.

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Crumble the feta and add the feta, castelvetrano olives, reserved scallion greens, juice of 1 lemon, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the bowl of kale.

Add the drained lentils to the bowl, add the infused oil (you don’t have to use it all…but you won’t be sorry if you do), and half the nut mixture. You can remove the lemon rinds and garlic cloves if you want, or eat them, or eat around them.

Finish your bowl with the rest of the nut mixture on top, and anything else you want to make your bowl feel extra pretty – a little more feta, a little more scallion, etc. Enjoy!

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