Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bowl of Love

Lentils are one of those perfect foods—they're high in fiber, low-cal, a good source of protein, and have twice the iron of other legumes. Green lentils are the most common, but you can find yellow, red, brown, black, and even white ones. The best part? Lentils are tasty and super inexpensive.

You can make all kinds of things with the little super beans. Lentil soup is fast, easy, and delicious—a lovely light supper or satisfying lunch. They're great instead of rice for a side dish, or mixed into chili for extra texture.

I love the little bite that lentils have, and I wanted to play with that texture. They're also pretty easygoing when it comes to flavoring...I think just about any herb or spice compliments their earthy essence. For this "salad," I tried mixing in some tomatoes and spinach since both of them, when cooked, are silky and soft. (Not to mention the vitamins they bring to the party.) Dressed simply with my go-to bistro-esque salad dressing, it's pretty great as a side dish or as a vegetarian lunch. (A cup of cooked lentils have 18 grams of protein. To put that in perspective, 5 ounces of tofu only has 11 grams.)

Warm Lentil Salad
serves 4 as a side

4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup green lentils
3 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
½ lemon, juiced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (14.5-ounce) can petite-diced tomatoes, drained
¼ cup chicken broth or water
1 (16-ounce) bag fresh spinach, tough stems removed

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups well-salted water to a boil. Add thyme and lentils, cover, and cook until just tender, about 25 minutes. Drain remaining water, and (if using) pull out thyme stems.

Make dressing: In a lidded jar, combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon, salt, and pepper; shake vigorously to combine.

In a large, lidded skillet, heat remaining ½ tablespoon olive oil. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add tomatoes; sautĂ© 2 minutes. Add chicken broth or water and spinach. Cover skillet and cook until spinach wilts, about 3 minutes. Uncover and toss to combine everything. Cook until most of liquid in pan evaporates, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add drained lentils to skillet; gently toss to combine. Remove from heat, add dressing, and gently fold mixture to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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