Salads and Side Dishes

Lentil, Currant, and Arugula Salad

“Either you have it, or you don’t” spoke the ever-eloquent Chef Olsen one day in class, “and having it creates brilliant food. Life changing food.” It, is the ‘je ne sais quois’ of the culinary field. That certain something; a natural instinct if you will, of how things should taste. Creating a a recipe from scratch is a combination of chemistry, calculus, and artistry. The chemistry and calculus can be taught- a 3:2:1 ratio of flour, butter, and water creates a perfect pie dough. A 1:2:3 ratio of sugar, butter, and cake flour makes the perfect short dough. But what things taste well together, how you blend acids with fats and fresh herbs to make a perfect sauce or a perfect dish… well that’s the work of an artist.

I am not an artist. My drawings looks like badly destroyed cartoons, my version of cutting a straight line looks like I am in kindergarten, and that whole “scrapbooking” thing is not for me. My plating in culinary school was sometimes great but mostly eeh. But when it came time to create the building components for a dish or the final tasting before we turned in our plates, my culinary teammates turned to me. I am proud to say that it was I that said we should poach an egg yolk in duck fat to top our smoked trout crostini. Without working years in the field like most of my comrades, I had an elevated sense of taste. And I tell you all this, because “it” is how I felt when I made and this Lentil and Arugula Salad. My taste buds exploded with warmth and crunch, bitter and sweet, savory and creamy. That little bit of everything that stands out yet magically blends together to create the perfect dish. 

Makes: 4 entree salads
Prep Time: 30 minutes      Total Time: 45 minutes

1 1/2 cups black lentils
3/4 cup currants
3/4 cup red onion, small dice
3 cups (or large handfuls) arugula
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled or cut into bite size pieces

For Dressing:
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp coriander
1 tbs maple syrup
1 tbs dijon mustard
2 tbs minced shallot

  • Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the lentils, reduce to a simmer, and cook until al dente, around 25 minutes. They should be chewy but still hold their texture. Be sure not to overcook as they turn to mush quickly.
  • About 1 minute before the lentils have finished cooking, add the currants to the hot water to rehydrate them.
  • Drain the lentils and currants through a strainer and rinse well with cold water to stop the cooking process.
  • Make the dressing the the bottom of a large bowl. Whisk together all of the ingredients except for the oil. Drizzle the oil in at the end while whisking to create a blended dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Add the diced red onion, lentils, and currants to the bowl. Toss well with the dressing. Add the arugula and gently toss to avoid mashing the arugula. Taste again and season with salt and pepper as necessary.
  • Serve the dish with the arugula mostly on the bottom, and the lentil/currant mixture on top. Add the goat cheese at the end. Serve at room temperature.
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