French Picnic Lentil Salad (a.k.a. The Only Lentil Salad Recipe You Need)

If you already have a good lentil salad recipe, I won’t be offended if you give this recipe a pass. It can be personal, the relationship between a cook and her lentil salad. It can run deep.

That’s certainly how it is between me and this lentil salad, a simple little French number dressed with a Dijon vinaigrette which, if you don’t have a good lentil salad recipe, hello — here it is. You’re welcome.

It’s my adaptation of an adaptation of a Gourmet recipe and it may very well be the thing that kickstarted my lifelong love of lentils. It is definitely the recipe that cured Rob of his fear of beans. Lentils are the gateway legume. You heard it here first.

If you’re going on a picnic, this is pretty much the perfect thing to eat: good at room temperature, fantastically tasty and, like any good picnic, vaguely French. But to be honest, I usually eat this salad indoors for dinner over a bed of arugula with some good bread and maybe a few slices of salami on the side, and then for lunch over the next day or two. It also makes a good snack in between.

That’s why I always make enough for several days’ worth of leftovers, because there are so many ways to eat it, I’m always happy it’s there in the fridge. A few serving ideas:

  • Over raw or lightly sautéed hardy greens (like arugula or spinach)
  • Stuffed in a thin omelette
  • Over a roasted, smashed sweet potato
  • Under a fried or poached egg
  • Over brown rice or quinoa

Or just bring it plain to a picnic. Trust me, this humble little lentil dish can hold its own.

French Picnic Lentil Salad

Yield: 4 main dish servings, 8 side dish servings

{ Ingredients }

5 cups water
2 cups French green (Puy) lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 small celery stalks, finely chopped
2 small carrots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

{ Directions }

Place the water, lentils and bay leaf in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt and continue simmering for 8-10 more minutes, or until lentils are tender but still hold their shape.

While the lentils are simmering, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the celery, carrots, garlic, onion, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent, 5-7 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in a thin, steady stream, whisking constantly, until vinaigrette is thoroughly blended.

When lentils are done cooking, drain into a colander and discard bay leaf. Add lentils and vinaigrette to the pan with the cooked vegetables and stir to mix. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature. Leftovers will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

• Brown lentils can be used in place of French green lentils. Start checking for doneness a few minutes earlier.

• This recipe can easily be halved, but the salad keeps so well and makes such an excellent lunch or snack, it's worth making the full amount.

Adapted from Orangette's recipe, which was adapted from Gourmet