Monday, January 21, 2008

Warm Lentil Salad with Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese

I have been finding culinary inspiration from a recent trip to Paris, and the subsequent library check-out of Julia Child and Jaque Pepin's Cooking at Home cookbook (you can see a taste of the book here). It's a great book with recipes sandwiched between commentary from the two chefs. It taught me loads about preparing well-cooked lentils, even though the recipe is from a different source.

So last night for dinner we whipped up a simple French-style warm salad. I included the recipe below for those of you that are inspired.

This is THE BEST recipe, and how could it not be with the combination of both bacon and goat cheese? And my favorite part is that, despite the inclusion of both of these ingredients, the salad manages to remain a fairly healthful and well rounded meal. Kudos to those French chefs who figured out how to include rich, savory ingredients that add depth and flavor to a dish, without adding them to excess. This time, we wilted spinach into the lentils before serving instead of dishing the warm lentils onto cold field greens. We also sliced several heirloom tomatoes to complement the flavor and add more health!

The salad includes roasted beets, which I must say are an under appreciated veggie. I think people are frequently scared away from beets because they stain, and they seem out dated, like something my great grandma served years ago. But in truth they are flavorful, easy to prepare, and add a sophisticated flavor. I love 'em. I hope you enjoy.

RECIPE: Warm Lentil Salad with Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese

1 medium Spanish onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, quartered
1 stalk celery, quartered
1 fresh or dried bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cups chicken stock
1 1/4 cups dried French green lentils
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound slab bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

4 cups frisee or mixed greens
Sherry Vinaigrette, recipe follows
4 slices goat cheese
French bread, for serving

Begin by roasting the beets.

Tie onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs together in cheesecloth. Place chicken stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the lentils, season with salt and pepper, and reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well and discard the cheesecloth bag of aromatics.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until lightly golden brown. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a dish lined with paper towels. Add the garlic and carrot to the pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked lentils and bacon to the pan and stir to combine. Stir in the chopped thyme and 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Keep warm.

To assemble, place the frisee in a large bowl, toss with half of the vinaigrette, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the roasted beets around the outside of 4 dinner plates. Divide the greens among each plate in the center. Top the frisee with some of the warm lentils and place a slice of the goat cheese on top. Drizzle each salad with the remaining vinaigrette. Serve with slices of French bread.

Roasted Beets:
3 medium beets (red or gold), scrubbed, leaves trimmed
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Coat beets lightly with oil. Wrap beets in aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven until cooked through, approximately 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, and then peel and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Sherry Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, thyme and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil and whisk until emulsified.

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