French Lentil Salad with Fennel, Mint, and Feta
Like every parent, when my kids were tiny, my husband and I made all the decisions, from what they’d eat for breakfast to when they’d go to bed. In the toddler years, we even chose their playmates since, most often, they were the conveniently timed offspring of our own friends.
By preschool, my kids were finding their own pals and having their first play dates. Sometimes I’d tag along, either because somebody had cold feet about going to a new house, or because I needed to see first hand that my daughter’s new friends weren’t the spawn of serial killers.
Now that my girls are older, I have less say in all matters. I’m not spooning rice cereal into their breakfast bowls, I’m no longer enforcing a 7 p.m. bedtime, and I’m not choosing their playmates. This is all to be expected and I was managing well until last year when my oldest daughter began high school, which meant a whole new set of peers, most of whom I didn’t know. Many lived in other towns with parents I’d never met. Would the groundwork we laid for making good choices in friends stick?
I worried less once my daughter fell into friendships with a terrific group of girls. But it’s different now. She manages her social life entirely without me and making connections with the parents of her pals doesn’t come as effortlessly as it once did.
Thus, there was something especially poignant when one of her friends arrived at the house one recent evening, an overnight bag in one hand with everything she’d need for a sleepover. In the other? A pint-size jar filled with lentil salad flecked with fresh mint and feta cheese, all tied up with a ribbon: A gift, from her mother’s kitchen to mine.
I opened up the jar and dug my spoon right in, savoring the delicious homemade salad. I knew then that my daughter was in good hands with this girl. The love and care behind her mother’s lentils couldn’t possibly be the work of a serial killer.
French Lentil Salad with Feta and Mint
Cook tiny French lentils until just tender and toss with a tangy shallot vinaigrette. Add diced fennel, fresh mint, and soft goat cheese and you have a dish that strikes a balance of rustic and elegant. It's enormously satisfying and nourishing. Enjoy as a main course lunch or supper or a side dish to roast chicken or fish.
- 1 1/2 cups dried French lentils (see notes)
- 3 fat cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 large bay leaf
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sumac or cumin
- 1/4 minced shallot (1 medium)
- 1 small or 1/2 large bulb fennel, diced
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
- 3 ounces Feta or fresh goat cheese (chevre), crumbled
Rinse the lentils with water in a colander and look over carefully, removing any tiny stones or debris. Put in a medium pot with the garlic and bay leaf and cover by 3 inches with water. Bring to a boil. Once water boils, drop the heat until it simmers. Simmer for 10 minutes, add 2 teaspoons salt, and continue simmering until the lentils are just tender, but not mushy (15 to 20 minutes total simmer time).
While the lentils cook, in a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard, salt, vinegar, oil, several cracks of black pepper, and sumac. Add the shallot and whisk again.
Once the lentils are cooked, drain in a colander and add to the bowl with the dressing. Mix well. Add the fennel, mint, and feta and mix gently. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.
Serve warm or cold.
Notes: French lentils, also called lentils de Puy, are smaller and darker in color than standard green lentils. They hold their shape well when cooked and are well suited for salads.
Inspired by a recipe from Madeleine Sklar.