Cold nights, warm lentils, yes please!
November 10, 2009 11:45 AM   Subscribe

While visiting San Antonio last month, I ate at Liberty Bar on Metafilter's recommendation and fell deeply in love with their warm lentil salad. I would love to recreate it at home for a fantastic winter dinner. Please help me do so.

The dish was very simple, ingredients-wise, but I need some assistance in figuring out what spices/seasonings to add, and in what order I should cook/assemble everything. I'm pretty sure I tasted cumin, but have no idea what else might have been in it. The menu describes it as "sautéed lentils with spinach, bacon, onion, and garlic."

It doesn't have to be an exact replica of the salad I had; I'm sure anything with the above ingredients would be delicious if you have other ideas on how I might put them to work.

Bonus question: I really wanted to try the warm chickpea salad as well, but could not persuade my dining companion to order it. It's listed as "sautéed chickpeas, carrot, celery, garlic, onion, spinach, and feta cheese." Any idea what spices I could use to recreate this?

Thanks for your help!
posted by anderjen to Food & Drink (3 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Cumin goes really well with lentils, so does a little curry powder and always salt and pepper. Maybe Zatar if you're feeling fiesty. Cook the lentils in a flavored broth (veg or chicken, beef/whatever).

I would look through lentil soup recipies and see what sounds good to you and just experiement. I'm inspired to make the chickpea and lentil salad tonite, thanks!
posted by cestmoi15 at 12:29 PM on November 10, 2009

Best answer: N.B. I've not tasted any of these so I am recreating them blind based on what I would do with these ingredients

Cumin works fine as a spice on its own. I often use it in salads this way. I might also be tempted to use some smoked paprika or Coriander with it.

I would use puy lentils. Cook them first. Fry the onions slowly for 15 mins or so until they are translucent. About 5 minutes before this stage add the garlic and bacon. When they are translucent mix in the spices. Take whole spinach leaves and add them to the pan till they wilt. (You don't need to cook them, the heat and residual water will be enough). Add the lentils and mix together for one or two more minutes. Remove form pan and dress with olive oil or vinaigrette.

The second one is a little harder to guess but try this.

Make a Mirepoix. You might want to make it roughly chopped rather than finely diced, but if you do make sure the pieces are still the same size and not too big. Fry as above, add the garlic then add ginger and cinnamon. Wilt the spinach then add cooked chickpeas. Remove from heat and mix in the feta (in cubes) along with chopped flat parsley or cilantro.

I often make a warm lentil salad with whole grain mustard so you could also try that as a flavoring.
posted by tallus at 12:29 PM on November 10, 2009

Best answer: Definitely go for "french green" lentils. They may be hard to find at a regular store, and they're more expensive (but we're talking $1.70/lbs vs $0.90/lbs ) but they hold up so much better. For a soup or stew I'd say skimp, for this kind of salad or side dish go for the nice ones. Oh, and I know you know this, but stay away from caned lentils, they're quick enough to cook from dry anyways.

I think a restaurant style preparation would cook the lentils separately, like tallus described. I (just a home cook) would probably cook it all together for the simplicity of it. Going off my experience with lentils, (and not actually trying the dish) I'd take a wild guess it was something like this:

Spice mix: .5 Tbs cumin, .25 tbs coriander (ground seeds), 1tsp gram masalla. Also possible .25 tsp cayenne. Bonus points for toasting and grinding your own cumin and coriander seeds.
  • Pick over (look for rocks) and rinse 2c. lentils. Simmer in 6-8c. broth till tender (30-60 min, depending on age of lentils). If lentils are not done, and not much liquid remains, add more.
  • Slice 4-5 strips of bacon bacon into 1/4inch long pieces, and fry until all fat is rendered. Remove and reserve.
  • Add a large diced onion and fry till soft. Sprinkle on a spice mixture. Crank up the heat. Add garlic, and toss for 30 sec. Then add a bunch of washed spinach (with some water still clinging). Stir for a few moments until slightly wilted, then toss on lentils. Stir gently. Add bacon. Serve.
I believe a restaurant would cook each serving to order, so everything after the first step, would be scaled down to a quarter. This would probably also help keep the lentils whole, but might not be practical for feeding a family.

posted by fontophilic at 9:37 AM on November 11, 2009

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