Between Christmas and New Year's Feasts, Simple Warm French Lentil Salad from 'One Good Dish'

Between Christmas and New Year's feasts there is room for simple fare like this recipe from One Good Dish, 'the pleasures of a simple meal' (Artisan Books, October 2013) by David Tanis.

Warm French Lentil Salad

Serves 4 to 6

In cold weather, there’s something completely pleasurable about a warm, savory French lentil salad. And when I say French, I don’t just mean in the French manner (though this salad is)—you really need to use French lentils. They keep their shape when cooked, and their firm, nutty texture holds up to the acid in an assertive dressing. Ordinary brown supermarket lentils are fine for soup, but for a good lentil salad, you want those beautiful little imported gray-green lentilles du Puy. They cook in about 30 minutes.
Dress the warm lentils with the garlicky mustard vinaigrette, add thick slices of smoked pork belly and boiled fingerling potatoes, and sprinkle with lots of chopped scallions and parsley. A magnificent meal. 

¾ pound smoked pork belly or good-quality slab bacon, 1½ to 2 inches thick
1 large onion, halved and each half stuck with a clove
4 thyme branches
1 small carrot, peeled
1 cup small green French lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 small bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 pound fingerling or other small potatoes, rinsed

for the vinaigrette
1 large shallot, finely diced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup fruity olive oil
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cornichons or other sour gherkins
½ cup chopped parsley, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
¼ cup chopped scallions, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish

151_Warm French Lentil Salad

1. Put the pork belly in a small pot with 1 of the onion halves, 2 of the thyme branches, and the carrot. Add water to cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until the meat is tender, about 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and keep warm in the liquid.

2. Meanwhile, put the lentils in a saucepan and add the other onion half, the 2 remaining thyme branches, and the bay leaf. Add 4 cups water and a little salt, bring to a simmer, and cook gently until the lentils are firm-tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain (discard the onion, thyme, and bay leaf) and keep warm.

3. Cook the potatoes in their skins in well-salted boiling water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and keep warm.

4. To make the vinaigrette, macerate the shallot in the red wine vinegar in a small bowl for 5 minutes.
5. Add the garlic, a pinch each of salt and pepper, and the mustard to the shallot, then whisk in the olive oil to make a thick dressing. Stir in the chopped capers and cornichons. Just before serving, stir in the ½ cup parsley and ¼ cup scallions.

6. To serve, dress the lentils with half the vinaigrette, then transfer to a platter or serving bowl. Slice the pork belly (or bacon) crosswise into ¼-inch slices (save the broth for soup) and arrange over the lentils. Cut the potatoes lengthwise in half and arrange cut side up around the pork. Spoon the remaining vinaigrette over the sliced meat and potatoes and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon each scallions and parsley.

Note: This vinaigrette is also great with boiled or roasted beef, hot or cold, as well as with boiled or steamed vegetables, like leeks. 

“Excerpted from One Good Dish by David Tanis (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Gentl & Hyers."

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