You can make this salad with any kind of green or brown lentil. But hear me out: spend the extra change (not a lot—we’re talking about beans after all) and the extra few minutes to grab the good lentils, if this is at all a possibility in the reality of your legume world.
Here’s what the difference is: regular brown or green lentils—very nice. Fairly soft, nicely earthy, take well to various flavors, make lovely soups and salads. All good, nothing to be apologetic for at all.
What Are French Lentils?
But French lentils—something better. Sometimes greenish, sometimes more brown in color, French lentils are a little more special than regular lentils. They are grown in volcanic soil that gives them a slightly minerally, nutty, peppery taste—less sort of generally “earthy” (or, pardon me, maybe muddy?) than regular lentils. They are smaller than regular lentils, and have more of a flying saucer shape, and they hold that shape and a firmer texture better in the cooking. French lentils just look cute as a button… actually like lots of cute little buttons.
(Don’t use red, orange or yellow lentils here—they are delicious but get very soft when cooked, and won’t work in this sort of salad. They are terrific in soups and Indian dishes like dals.)
In this salad they are simply cooked, then combined with a balsamic dressing and some lightly cooked vegetables. And then the finishing touches: diced avocado, which pretty much always makes any salad that much better, here adding color and creaminess, plus healthy handfuls of sliced scallions (pop off color, bit of crunch, hit of spiciness) and fresh parsley (fresh and clean and herby).
The colorful assortment of chopped and diced vegetables results in a lentil salad that’s a little lighter than straight lentil salads, and very varied (e.g., not at all boring) within each bite.
There are a few foods that are definitely worth splurging on when the opportunity arises. You will often find yourself pleasantly rewarded with a whole other level of texture and/or flavor/and or quality in general. I mention these items because an extra few bucks can buy you a world of difference: bread, pasta and beans are good examples. Also rice sometimes. And I know there are other that I am not thinking of (tell me your quick-to-splurge food categories, I am super interested!).
With things like meat or crab… or caviar, the price differential between something that is good and something that is excellent can pinch. Not with these foods: two dollars can buy you a fine baguette; 4 bucks can buy you a great one. $1.00 gets you a very serviceable box of pasta (and believe you me, that’s the kind of pasta that I am cooking with most nights). $6.00 might get you something fabulous, Italian and bronze cut and some cool new shape and all of that.
Yes, you might have to go a bit out of your way, though many good supermarkets have an impressive variety of specialty food products these days. And in the case of non-perishable items like beans and pasta and rice and some other pantry staples, you can stock up on the good stuff easily. And while I never ever want to be part of the great conspiracy to put those lovely brick and mortar stores out of business… and while there is terrific pleasure in in-person shopping in general, and certainly for gorgeous food items…. that little thing called online shopping is mighty helpful.
How to Cook French Lentils
2 cups of dried lentils will make about 4 cups of cooked lentils. You can double or even triple the amount, but make sure your pot is large enough, and you keep the water level above the beans.
- Rinse them in a strainer and make sure there are no little bits of anything other than beans in the mix.
- Place them in a pot and add water to cover by about 4 inches. If you like you can add a coupe of sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf.
- Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium, add a teaspoon or so of salt, and keep them at a simmer for about 25 minutes, or until tender. Taste often towards the end and take them out just when they are done to your liking so they don’t overcook.
- Drain and use, or cool quickly by spreading them out on a rimmed baking sheet.
So, go for the good lentils—and let me know what you think! (Also, in case you are wondering, the salad on the side is coming soon—with gochujang dressing, for a totally offbeat pairing with this lentil salad—but it works—and here is where this gorgeous serving bowl can be found).
Mediterranean Lentil, Red Onion and Avocado Salad
- 4 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 2 red onions chopped
- 3 carrots peeled and chopped
- 3 stalks celery chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 4 cups cooked lentils preferably French; see above
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey maple syrup or agave
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 avocados
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until the vegetables are just barely tender. Turn the mixture into a large bowl, and add the lentils.
- While the vegetables are cooking, in a small bowl or a container with a lid combine the remaining olive oil, vinegar, honey or other sweetener, lemon juice and zest, and salt and pepper. Stir or shake well. Pour the dressing over the lentil mixture and toss to combine. Cool to room temperature.
- Peel and dice the avocados. Add the avocado, parsley and scallions to the salad and toss gently to combine. Serve at room temperature.
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