When I was down in Sewanee earlier this spring at a writer’s colony, pretty much the only distraction I had from my manuscript was making dinner, visiting new pony friends at a neighboring farm, and reading cookbooks.
I had been looking forward to the two-week trip as the light at the end of my writer’s block tunnel, and had unrealistically planned to spend every waking minute poring over research and plunking away at my keyboard. I didn’t realize, until a few days in, when I was already starting to go a bit crazy, how much my brain needs some mindless downtime in front of The Daily Mail or Sex and the City marathons.
With spotty WiFi and no cell service, I couldn’t even get my fix stalking Taylor Swift’s instagram feed. So I was forced to turn to the cookbook shelf as my only means of healthy diversion. Flipping through pages of beautifully shot food didn’t necessarily give me the guilty high I am used to when spending hours watching Adam Levine and Blake Shelton banter on screen, but it did bring this French lentil salad recipe into my life.
I’ve been a big fan of David Tanis’ recipes ever since someone gave me a copy of his first book, A Platter of Figs. So I was thrilled to see his latest book, One Good Dish, on the communal cookbook shelf.
I mentally flagged his mackerel rillettes, but knew there was no way I was going to be able to source the necessary ingredients from the Piggly Wiggly. But I thought I would have better luck with this simple French lentil salad with pork belly. I settled on another pork product (bacon) and whipped up a simplified version of this lentil dish with roasted potatoes, which I ate for a few days straight for lunch, while reading more cookbooks.
When I got home, I made it again without any pig, and an even more streamlined ingredient list. If you have cornichons and capers in your fridge, feel free to throw them in as the original calls for. But I found that without any salty pork, the pickled items weren’t as necessary. I imagine that they’d be great with some chopped hard boiled egg thrown in there for another vegetarian twist though.
The French lentil salad tastes great cold, warm or at room temperature and makes for a great picnic dish. You can try it as a healthy alternative to potato salad for your Fourth of July buffet, among friends. Or perhaps, as a less raucous solo meal when you’re in need of a little sustenance and mindless distraction, whatever that may be.
French Lentil Salad with Roasted Baby Potatoes and Herbs
- 1 cup small green French lentils
- 1 small bay leaf
- Sea salt
- 1 pound fingerling potatoes halved lengthwise
- Olive oil
- 1 small shallot minced
- 1 small clove garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- ½ cup fresh herbs parsley, basil, mint, chives or a mix, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils, bay leaf, 6 cups of water, and 2 teaspoons salt to boil. Simmer the lentils until tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and remove the bay leaf.
Meanwhile, on a parchment lined baking sheet, toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Arrange in an even layer, cut-side down and roast in the oven until tender and lightly browned, 25 minutes.
In a large salad bowl, combine the shallot, garlic and vinegar. Allow to sit for 5 minutes to mellow. Whisk in the mustard, followed by 1 teaspoon of olive oil. When the oil has incorporated, add another splash of oil. Repeat this process until the vinaigrette is thick and smooth, with just a slight bite. You’ll probably use about ¼ cup of olive oil total. Season to taste with salt.
Add the lentils, potatoes, and herbs to the mixing bowl and toss to combine. Serve at room temperature or chill until ready to serve.