Lentils are misunderstood. They get such a bad rap for being boring, or mushy, or tasteless. But I love them . The wonderful thing about lentils is they are so versatile. Beautiful in soup, but light and small enough to work well in salads as well. I think part of the problem is that people tend to overcook them. When boiled to mush, lentils can be underwhelming. But I cook them just long enough to soften (usually about 25 minutes), leaving them tender but firm. They have a nice delicate flavor that is enhanced by pretty much anything you combine with it, and they work well with a variety of spices and flavors. Add to that the health benefits of this high-fiber, high-protein, gluten-free, low cal, zero fat food and in my mind, you’ve got a winner.
You can use any kind of lentils for this salad (I went with the typical greenish brown French lentils). If you are in a hurry and you are lucky enough to live by a Trader Joe’s, they even sell steamed lentils in their refrigerated section that are delicious and ready to toss into whatever soup, salad or other creation you have in mind. It just doesn’t get any easier than that.
Rustic Spinach Lentil Salad
1 cup lentils
4 cups water
8 oz. mushrooms (I used half baby bellas and half button mushrooms), cut into thick slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Juice of 1-2 lemons
Salt & pepper
2 cups baby spinach
Bring the water to a boil, add lentils. Turn down to medium low and cook 20-25 minutes until lentils are tender. Drain and transfer to a salad bowl. Set aside to cool a bit.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil to the pan. Add half the mushrooms (don’t crowd the pan). Allow to cook a couple of minutes without stirring to get some good color on them. Stir and cook another couple of minutes. Remove from pan and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms. Add first batch of mushrooms back in, add garlic and crushed red pepper and cook an additional minute. Add to lentils. Add lemon juice, a generous pinch of salt & pepper, and a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed. Add spinach, toss and serve.