The last couple of days have finally felt like Spring in New York: bright sunshine, temps approaching 60 degrees F, tiny, pale green buds popping up on the trees and bright green new growth in our tiny patches of “lawn.” Amazingly enough, this run of warm, sunny weather is supposed to continue right through the weekend and into next week: could it be that Spring is actually here? (I wouldn’t lay bets that we’ve seen the last of this winter’s snow, but: ever hopeful).
While yesterday I cooked up a big pot of heirloom beans with bacon & sage, today required something lighter, sunnier, springier. I pulled every spring-ish vegetable I had out of the fridge: crisp pink radishes, pale, crunch celery hearts, bright green parsley. I rounded up a couple of tiny, new season red onions and I chased down the last of winter’s citrus: some Cara Cara oranges, a couple of clementines, and one fat lime. And to bring all of the early spring goodness together? Red lentils.
Do you know that I’ve never cooked lentils before? Not red ones, not brown, not even the fancy French greens. I don’t really know why: I guess they just haven’t been on my radar screen. (That or one too many leaden, earnestly virtuous vegetarian lentil soups in the ’70s.) But spring is the season of adventures, of out with the old and in with the new. So when I saw these lovely, orangey lentils at the market in Ridgefield last week, I thought, “Why not?” And I could hardly have fared better for my virgin lentil outing: this salad is a knockout.
Bright and citrusy, crunchy and crisp, mellow yellow lentils and just the right hint of grassy, peppery parsley: it all worked beautifully. Tai and I had two bowls each for lunch. If you’ve got some tag ends of citrus rolling around the crisper drawer and a stash of red lentils, you could do worse: this salad is springtime in a bowl. Maybe if we all celebrate Spring this weekend, she’ll decide to stick around?
- 1 cup red lentils, well rinsed in cold water
- 1 orange
- 2 clementines
- 1 large lime
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 large radishes, scrubbed, trimmed, halved and sliced into thin moons
- 3 to 4 center rib celery stalks, with leaves, thinly sliced
- 1 small red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
- 1 medium bunch parsley, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil
- extra citrus for serving
- Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set it near the stove. In a medium saucepan, bring a quart of water to a full boil. Add 1/2 tsp salt and rinsed lentils. Return to a boil, then boil gently, partially covered, until lentils are al dente (about 6 – 7 minutes) taking care not to overcook. Strain lentils, then plunge into the ice bath to cool. Set aside.
- Zest and suprême the orange. Suprême the clementines. Zest and juice the lime.
- In a large bowl, combine orange zest, orange & clementine sections, lime zest and juice and lemon juice. Squeeze the leftover orange & clementine membranes over the bowl to catch any juice. Add the radishes, celery + leaves, onion and parsley. Season with salt & pepper. Toss.
- Drain the lentils. Shake them vigorously and toss, allowing them to fluff and draining away as much water as possible. Add to the bowl with the vegetables, folding gently to mix. Lastly, add a generous pour of olive oil: toss gently, taste, and adjust oil, salt or pepper. Don’t be afraid to use a generous hand with the olive oil: you’ve added a lot of citrus juice. Serve cold or at room temperature, with extra citrus wedges for spritzing.
- As I was enjoying this for lunch, I thought a thinly slivered red chile would be perfect. Feel free to toss one into the mix.
- You can use any mix of citrus you happen to have on hand, but I do recommend including a variety: mix it up.
- If you’re not a lentil person, substitute couscous, orzo, millet, wheat berries: many grains or legumes would work.
Best eaten fresh.