Puy Lentil Salad (vegan option)

As a nation we’re not great at using dried pulses in particular. Tinned are far quicker and in more recent years, ready flavoured pouches even more so! However using dried means you can control the flavouring and salt, save some money and get the texture just how you like it. Once cooked Puy lentils will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days or could be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing either divide them into convenient portion sizes or make sure they are well drained, otherwise they will all clump together when frozen. If you’re extra organised you can spread them on a tray and ‘open’ freeze them before transferring to the container of your choice.

This recipe is based on one from River Cottage Veg Everyday! Hugh suggests making your own vegetable stock for this which is a great way to use up some floppy fridge veg, however it’s not something I have the time or freezer space for so I wouldn’t fret too much if you don’t! I’d avoid a stock that contained salt when cooking pulses as that can toughen them and extend cooking time. Either use salt free or just water with a few aromatics thrown in such as a bay leaf, a couple of bashed garlic cloves and/or soft herb stalks.

For the actual salad bitter leaves such as rocket or watercress work well but if you prefer either a shredded softer lettuce or baby spinach are perfectly tasty too. In the spirit of wasting lest lets just go with whatever leaf you have! Same applies for the rest of the mix, just try and choose some contrasting textures and flavours. I used a softer Romaine lettuce which gave a bit of crunch at the base but a softer dark green upper leaf.

Whilst we’re trying to be economical here it is worthwhile pointing out that especially if choosing a very simple dish, it can be worth keeping a few good quality items to hand to be used carefully but really pack a punch. Personally I’ve ‘splashed out’ on some organic ‘Tomato Stall’ cherry vine tomatoes, they are extremely flavoursome, a few Mani raw fermented mixed olives which go a long way even when diced small, the Essential Dijon mustard (which is apparently the best aorund according to my husband!) and a good quality virgin rapeseed oil which serves well as a good cooking oil with higher smoke point than olive and a tasty dressing oil. None of these need to be used in volume and all but the tomatoes will last for months. The tomatoes can last for 2 weeks and are sold loose so you needn’t buy more than you need.

For the lentils (serves 4-6):
250g Puy lentils
Light vegetable stock or water
1 bay leaf
A few parsley stalks (optional)
1/2 an onion (optional)
2 garlic cloves bashed (optional)
2 tablespoons of quality olive or rapeseed oil
A half of a lemon, juiced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the mustardy lemon dressing:
3 tablespoons of olive oil (or virgin rapeseed if preferred)
1/2 a lemon of lemon juice (approx 1tbsp or to taste)
1 teaspoon mustard (I used Essential Dijon, use English if feisty!)
1 teaspoon clear honey or vegan alternative (sugar to taste may suffice)
A pinch of salt, sugar and ground black pepper
half a small clove of garlic smushed with coarse salt

For the salad (serves 2-4):
Some salad leaves of choice-
Half the dressed lentils
15-20 cherry or cherry plum tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
half a small cucumber halved and crescent sliced (seeds removed if there’s a lot -a ‘ridge’ one might be good for this)
3 baby courgettes cut down the middle and sliced into crescents
chopped olives (I used Mani raw fermented mixed)
(Alternatives could be crisp French beans, charred red peppers with skins removed or even some new season small carrots sliced finely)

Put the lentils in a pan, add plenty of water and bring to the boil (it doesn’t take long for this to happen! Don’t wander off and hang your washing up…you might mush your lentils! Says a friend…).
Simmer for only a minute  (see previous statement) then drain.

Return the lentils to the pan and pour on just enough water to cover them. Add the bay leaf, half an onion, garlic and parsley stalks if using. Bring back to a very low simmer and cook slowly for about half an hour, until tender not mushy. (Might be nearer 20 mins IF you happened to wander off initially…)

When using garlic in a dressing (or even a quick cook dish), I always put this in first to the jar or jug followed by either the lemon juice or vinegar element and give a quick mix. The acid starts to ‘cook’ the garlic and mellows it, making the garlic flavour less aggressive and overpowering. Whilst a minute or so may suffice, you can do this at the start of the lentil cooking if you wish and just pop in the fridge, it just depends how feisty you like your garlic! Then add the rest of the ingredients and whisk together thoroughly with salt and pepper.

Whilst the lentils are cooking heat a frying pan with a glug of oil to medium-high heat and fry the courgette crescents, tossing regularly until uniformly charred but still retain some bite. Set aside to cool a little once cooked.

Drain the lentils and pick out the bay leaf and other ‘optionals’ if using. Dress with the oil, lemon juice and freshly ground salt and pepper to taste.

Take half the warm lentils and toss with the leaves, tomatoes, olives, charred courgettes, cucumber and dressing.

If you want a more substantial meal serve with warm crusty bread or roasted new potatoes.