The lentil-beet salad from Urban Pantry (technically dubbed “lentils with mint and beets”) was the winner of last Saturday’s idea poll. It comes from the teeny cookbook Urban Pantry, which was actually a Christmas present from Caleb’s parents years ago. A recent shopping spree at Trader Joe’s resulted in an abundance of beets and mint in my fridge, and in light of the embarrassing quantity of French lentils I apparently purchased, this lentil-beet salad seemed like the perfect choice for dinner.
I found it remarkably difficult to compose a bowl of this salad that looked nice enough to photograph. The thing about beets is they tend to stain everything. Also, it was at least 90 degrees in my kitchen because I had the foolish notion to make foccacia to go along with this salad. In the end, I gave up on pretty photos and decided this salad was successful enough that I will make it again and maybe those photos will come out better. With that disclaimer, on to the actual salad….
Lentils are cheap, a great source of protein and fiber, they cook reasonably quickly and don’t require soaking, plus they can be served at room-temperature or colder. Beets are one of my favorite vegetables and they work beautifully in room-temperature salads, both in terms of flavor and color. With the addition of brightness from mint, a little garlic and onion, and a Dijon dressing, Amy’s lentil-beet salad is a flavorful, crowd-friendly, easy-to-make (ahead) room-temperature salad.
One of the things that drew me to this lentil-beet salad from Urban Pantry was the fact that it looked easy to prepare ahead of time. With that notion in my mind, I disregarded the author’s advice to cook the beets while cooking the lentils in another saucepan at the same time. I had already poached some chicken thighs, and I thought I would simply cook the lentils, then let them cool while I cooked the beets. Halfway through cooking the beets I realized that the recipe didn’t state a clear time for how long the beets would take because it is so size-dependent. I had underestimated both the cooking time and the amount of time necessary for letting the beets cool before peeling, dicing, and adding to the salad. Fortunately, I had made that kitchen-heating foccacia, so John and Joy had something to eat while they waited. Now I know this lentil-beet salad is easy to plan out in advance, but it does take about 60-80 minutes from starting to cook everything in separate pans till everything is fully cooked and sufficiently cooled for serving.
I took the liberty of adding some cold poached chicken thighs to the salad, because I served it as part of a dinner where the other courses were a kale-fennel slaw, the foccacia, and plum-blueberry pie bars a la mode. Since no one was vegetarian and it wasn’t a Meatless Monday, I felt somewhat obligated to add the meat. The poached, shredded chicken worked really well in this salad and I highly recommend adding it or perhaps goat cheese, feta, toasted walnuts, or salmon as extra toppings. Serve it all over some greens, which is essentially what I did the next day with the leftovers of this and the kale-fennel slaw, and you’ll have a delicious, easy, warm-weather meal.
John and Joy claim that they quite liked this salad, although not nearly as much as they enjoyed the fresh foccacia and the pie bars, if I’m being honest. I thought this salad was perfect as a light, satisfyingly simple dinner in the summer, although I don’t think it would be out-of-place in the winter either. The amount of mint is perfect – it doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors, but it adds a refreshing note to the salad that would be seriously lacking otherwise. I do think the recipe could perhaps be improved or adapted a bit to make this lentil-beet salad even better – it’s good, but I’m not certain that it is outstanding enough to convince my father to like lentils.
- Olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- ½ medium red onion, finely chopped*
- 1 cup dried French lentils
- 2-3 cups vegetable stock
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 2-3 medium beets, scrubbed free of dirt and tops removed
- 15 fresh mint leaves
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- generous pinch of salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- Boil a small pot of water and add the whole beets. Cook until they are soft, which will likely take 35-40 minutes but depends on size. Check on them about every 15-20 minutes.
- Once cooked, drain and set aside the beets until cool enough to touch. Peel their skin with a paper towel, then dice into small cubes.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, pour about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add onion and garlic, stir occasionally until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the French lentils, salt, and enough stock to just cover the lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and continue simmering until the lentils are al dente, about 20-30 minutes depending on the freshness of your lentils. Drain any excess stock and pour the cooked lentils onto a sheet pan to halt their cooking and cool them quickly.
- Chiffonade the mint leaves (stack them together, roll tightly lengthwise, cut into thin ribbons).
- Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and salt. Season with salt and pepper to your typical taste.
- In a large serving bowl, combine the cooled lentils, beets, and vinaigrette. Gently fold in the mint leaves. Serve at room temperature.
- Great extra toppings include cold poached chicken or salmon, goat cheese, feta, toasted walnuts, etc.
- This salad keeps well for up to five days in the fridge. It does not freeze well.