French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts

There were many recipes from My Paris Kitchen posted last month (and at least one this month) because that was the cookbook of the month in my Facebook Food52 Cookbook of the Month club.

It’s not like I hadn’t cooked from this book before… the nice thing about it being featured this month was the reminder it provided to look through and flag some more recipes to try out. Everything I’ve ever made from this book has been excellent with some new ingredients and techniques learned.

Including this salad. Not the ingredients or technique part, but the taste! So good. The only change for me next time will be to add some more goat cheese to the salad on the second or third or fourth days I eat the salad (this makes a lot of salad) because the cheese gets mixed in and I’d rather it stood out.

Here’s what happens.

Get the red onion, celery and carrot out of the refrigerator.

Red onion, green celery, red-orange carrot.

Chop the celery and carrot.

Chopped celery and carrot.

Chop the red onion too.

Chopped red onion.

Measure, then rinse the French lentils.

French lentils.

Get those lentils cooking.

Add the lentils to salted water (a whatfoodimade action shot™!).

Be sure to add the bay leaf and fresh thyme if you have that and dried thyme if you don’t.

Get the bay leaf and thyme into the pot.

After 15 minutes of cooking, add those chopped vegetables.

Add the chopped vegetables.

Whlie the lentils continue to cook, make the salad’s dressing.

Mince the shallot.

Shallot, minced.

Get a bowl that’s going to be large enough to hold all the salad and make the dressing in that.

Add red wine vinegar,

Red wine vinegar.

fleur de sel,

Fleur de sel.

Dijon mustard,

Dijon mustard.

and olive oil to the big bowl.

Add the olive oil (a second whatfoodimade action shot™!).

Whisk the ingredients together.

All combined.

After 10 minutes of cooking with the chopped vegetables, drain the lentils.

Drain the lentils (the final whatfoodimade action shot™!).

Add the lentils to the bowl with the dressing. Toss it all together. Keep mixing over the course of the next few hours, while the lentils cool.

Add the lentils to the bowl with the dressing.

Grind some pepper onto the lentils.

After cooling, add the black pepper.

Pre-crumbled goat cheese.

Goat cheese.

Toasted, pre-chopped.

Toasted walnuts.

Add the goat cheese and walnuts to the lentils and combine.

Mix all that together.

Plate and serve French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts.

French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts.

You can find the recipe here:

French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts
Salade de Lentilles au Chèvre et Aux Noix

Some people only know lentils as brownish-gray disks that got boiled to a mush in those soups everyone ate during the hippy-dippy 1970s. But their reputation has suffered enough indignity, and some enterprising team decided to rescue lentils from health food store bins by rebranding fancy lentils as “caviar” or “beluga” in an attempt to elevate their status.

It seems a little silly to me to try to bestow such regal grandeur on a humble legume, but I will concede that French green lentils are worthy of caviar-like adulation for their superb flavor and texture, and their ability to hold their shape when mixed into a salad. Normally I avoid calling for very specific ingredients in recipes, but in this case, the lentils from Le Puy, cultivated in south-central France, are truly the best. I’ve tried using other French green lentils, and while they taste fine, they don’t retain the same subtle crunch as the Le Puy lentils. They’re not as hard to find as caviar, nor as expensive, and though it may take some fishing around, do try to find them. If you can’t, other French green lentils will do. Just be sure to taste them before the end of the recommended cooking time, as they tend to cook faster. You want them to retain their shape in the salad and still have some bite. Don’t use the large green (or other coloured) lentils you might use for soup – they tend to get mushy very quickly.

This is my number-one, go-to salad, and I make it frequently because it’s fast, easy, and keeps well for days. You will get to test out your knife skills when making the mirepoix, a finely diced mix of onions, carrots, and celery. In an ideal world, you want the pieces the same size as the cooked lentils.

If lentils are the caviar of the legume world, then I am going to go out on a limb and say that walnut oil is the Champagne of the oil world. It’s pricier than other oils, but just a small amount permeates whatever you drizzle it into – most notably salads, infusing them with the nutty aroma and flavor of walnuts. Walnut oil is sold in small bottles because it doesn’t last long. I get mine from a producer at one of the marchés des producteuers, where weathered farmers from across France come to sell their homegrown foodstuffs directly to the public. And although some people might be more interested in caviar and Champagne, I’m content to lavish lentils with freshly pressed nut oil, which get the royal treatment in this unpretentious salad.

1 1/2 cups (270g) French green lentils (preferably from Le Puy)
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs thyme

1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 small red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup (60ml) olive oil, or half walnut oil and half olive oil
1 small shallot, peeled and minced

Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (30g) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup (100g) walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup (130g) crumbled fresh or slightly aged goat cheese or feta cheese

Rinse the lentils and put them in a saucepan with plenty of lightly salted water, the bay leaf, and the thyme. Bring to a boil, decrease the heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the finely diced vegetables and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the lentils are tender; be careful not to overcook them.

While the lentils are cooking, make the dressing. Mix the vinegar, salt, mustard, oil, and shallot in a large bowl.

Drain the lentils well and mix them into the dressing while still warm, stirring to coat the lentils. Remove the bay leaf and thyme and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Add a few grinds of pepper and mix in the parsley, nuts, and goat cheese. Taste, and add additional salt, if desired. I serve the salad at room temperature or warm. If served warm, omit the goat cheese, or crumble it on top at the last minute, so it doesn’t melt, but just softens slightly. The salad can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated. Let it come to room temperature before serving; it may need to be reseasoned after having been refrigerated.


2 thoughts on “French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts

  1. “French green lentils are worthy of caviar-like adulation for their superb flavor and texture, and their ability to hold their shape when mixed into a salad”

    That’s some pretty amazing praise and prose! Thanks for the lovely post! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lentil recipe like this. Alas, I don’t have access to amazing lentils, but my mouth is watering!

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