The one area in my life where I have a confident surplus of initiative is cooking – when nothing makes sense and the increasingly burdensome administrative tasks involved in being an adult are gleefully multiplying like the broomsticks in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I can still invent a recipe or be delighted by a hypothetical combination of flavours. July has been a taxing month and these reliable instincts fell somewhat dormant, but I was jolted back to life by seeing this Lentil Salad TikTok by food writer Bettina Makalintal – suddenly I felt excited again because making this recipe was in my near future. And besides, I gain as much joy from outside inspiration as I do from coming up with my own ideas (okay, maybe it’s more of a self-satisfied forty/sixty split), and it takes initiative to recognise someone else’s initiative, right? (As you can see, I may lack initiative, but at least I’m constantly worrying about it!)
Lentils and tofu are usually first under the bus when non-vegans discuss vegan food but as I always say, this is an issue with cooking ability, not the meal itself. Unseasoned, poorly cooked food is gross whether the protein source grew in the ground or walked the earth. You have to give the lentils some flavour and texture to cling onto otherwise they’re left stranded and bland. This superb salad – it does right by the lentil.
My recipe takes key elements of Bettina’s salad – the lentils, obviously, the peppery pink crunch of the radishes and plenty of lemon – along with my own added extras. There’s resiny thyme leaves, a diced avocado since I had one kicking about and it’s impossible to be sad when there’s an avocado involved, a generous quantity of mushroom soy sauce because it’s my current obsession, toasted pine nuts with garlic because to me pine nuts are just so classy – which I realise makes me sound more Kath Day-Knight than Old Money but I know where I’d rather be – and golden cubes of crisply-fried potato. The latter concept was inspired both by Nigella Lawson’s fried potato croutons in her Caesar Salad and a recipe by Rachel Ama for lentils with crispy new potatoes. It truly takes a village to make a salad!
This lentil salad is so delicious – leaving no adjective behind, it’s a perfect balance of oily, salty, sweet, earthy, peppery, crunchy, creamy, and tender. And it’s pretty, too, something the lentil doesn’t always get to boast – not since Elphaba and Galinda has pink looked so good with green. As is the nature of this kind of recipe you can add or subtract ingredients to your heart’s content, and despite being wedded to the classy pine nut, next time I’d definitely make this with the fried walnuts in Bettina’s recipe for a more pronounced crunch. There’s also lime juice or cherry tomatoes and basil to consider, or fried leeks, or olives, or rosemary, or pecans – the amicable lentil can handle it all. I’m slowly working on a newsletter where I plan to review various fake meats (the slow part is because CMS makes my head cave in on itself) but I enjoyed being reminded of the stalwart legume and its merits. It’s rather shamefully been years since I blogged a lentil recipe, and this salad will keep them on my mind from now on.
Lentil, Radish, Avocado and Fried Potato Salad
A simple but lush vegan lentil salad, ideal for lunch or dinner in its entirety but also very bring-a-plate friendly. It looks like there’s a lot of steps, but you’re really just mixing a bunch of stuff together, and ingredients are pretty loose, quantity-wise – feel free to add or subtract depending on your taste and needs. Recipe by myself, inspired by this salad by Bettina Makalintal.
- 1 and 1/2 cups dried brown lentils
- 8 small radishes, trimmed
- 1 spring onion
- 2 lemons
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
- 2 tablespoons mushroom soy sauce (or Maggi, or light soy sauce)
- a generous pinch of white pepper, or to taste
- 1 large floury potato
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 ripe but firm avocado
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1: Rinse the lentils in cold water, then place in a bowl and cover with cold water and leave them to sit for an hour. You don’t actually need to soak them but it reduces the cooking time and I think there are some health benefits to it in terms of mineral absorption but don’t take my word for it.
2: Drain any water from the soaked lentils and tip them into a large saucepan with enough fresh water to generously cover (about the length of your index finger when prodded into the pan.) Bring the water to the boil then lower the heat and simmer the beans until they’re tender – this shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. Keeping the heat low prevents the lentils from breaking apart and turning mushy, I was only semi-successful in achieving this but it still tasted fine. Strain the lentils, rinsing briefly in cold water to take some of the heat off, and set aside in a mixing bowl.
3: Cut the radishes into quarters and finely slice the spring onion. Make the dressing by zesting and juicing the lemon and mixing this in a small bowl with the mushroom soy sauce, olive oil and black pepper.
4: Scrub the potato clean if need be and dice it into small cubes. Heat another tablespoon or two of olive oil in a heavy frying pan and fry the potato cubes until golden and crisp – make sure they’re in one layer and give them about five minutes on the first side without moving them before turning over and cooking for another five minutes.
5: Turn off the heat, remove the potatoes from the pan with a slotted spoon and add them to the lentils. Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves and add them to the pan with the pine nuts, and stir them in the residual heat until the nuts are lightly golden and toasted. Even though this isn’t happening on direct heat be sure to keep a close eye on it as both pine nuts and garlic burn easily.
6: Finally, tip the radishes and spring onions into the bowl of lentils and potatoes, then scrape in all the pine nuts, garlic, and remaining olive oil from the pan. Dice your avocado and add that to the bowl along with the dressing and the thyme leaves. Gently stir everything together and taste to see if needs more salt, pepper, or lemon.
Best served either immediately or after 24 hours in the fridge, by which point the potatoes will have lost their crispness but the overall flavour will have developed fantastically. If you’re making this ahead of time, either accept your uncrisp potatoes or fry them up at the last minute and stir them in. Finally – this is best at room temperature as opposed to fridge-cold.
Serves 4 generously as a light lunch, or 6-8 as a side dish as part of a larger meal.
Son of Birds by Dip In The Pool. The whole Aurorae album from 1991 is a sublime dreamscape from start to finish and that’s how I’d recommend listening to it, but this track, with its watery beat and film noir horns, is a charming entry point.
Don’t Leave Me by Blackstreet. A classic! The silky harmonies! Was there ever anything as poignant as that DeBarge sample! This song makes me feel like I’m wearing a cable knit sweater and slacks and a floor-length coat and pumps with a square toe and a square heel and I’m on the brink of divorce but in an aspirational, cinematic way!
The One by Limp Bizkit. Oh, I could pretend that watching the Woodstock 99 documentary with my brother is what made me nostalgic but the briefest scan of my timeline shows I’ve been enthusiastically listening to Limp Bizkit of my own volition for a long time. And even though this song is genuinely quite glorious with a similar downwards-diagonal intensity that you’d find in Shout by Tears for Fears or In Like The Rose by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and I honestly love it so much and will play it five times in a row, we all know I’m going to play Limp Bizkit’s critically-reviled cover of Faith five times in a row after that – say what you like but I came of age with this band and none of us can deny the way Fred Durst’s voice soars in the bridge.
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