Thursday, July 28, 2011

Magenta Lentil Salad OR A Love Note to Slow Absorption Cooking

I have a beet problem. I have trouble resisting the urge to sneak them into all sorts of dishes for the sheer glee of turning them magenta. As far as childish impulses go, you could really do much worse. I love their sweet, earthy flavor, and, in addition to a crazy magenta hue, beets are loaded with nutrients: all kinds of antioxidants, detoxifiers, and anti-inflammatory compounds, not to mention sizeable helpings of folate, potassium and fiber (see here for more on beet nutrition). Also, many of them break down in heat or are in the skin, so my silly, lazy addition of raw, unpeeled, crazy purple beet looks like a solid decision rather than a fun one. You still get crazy fun magenta salad, though.

I've been making it with honey and topping it with chevre, but that's easily changed to make it vegan.

Magenta Lentil Salad
Grain/Gluten-Free, Optionally Vegan

  • 1 c. brown lentils
  • 1 c. urad dal (whole) ← you can sub green/French lentils for either or both of these
  • 1 small/med. beet, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5-6 leaves kale, stemmed and cut into thin ribbons
  • 1 smallish cucumber (5-6"), seeded and cut into ½” cubes
  • 1 scallion, sliced
  • 3-4 sprigs mint (10-15 leaves), minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1-2 Tblsp. honey/agave syrup
  • 2 Tblsp. olive oil
  • zest & juice of one lemon
  • ½ jalapeƱo pepper, seeded & minced (optional)
  • 2-3 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
Cook lentils in separate pots: for each, rinse and add water to cover plus enough to reach to the first knuckle on your index finger for brown, to second knuckle for urad. Cover and bring to a boil. Let the brown lentils boil for about 5 minutes, add ½ tsp salt, then remove from heat. Let the urad dal boil about 15 minutes, add ½ tsp salt then remove from heat. Let sit for at least 45 min. to an hour (you can do this overnight!). You can cook them however you like, but this cooking method helps keep the lentils from over-cooking. In winter dishes, I like cooking my lentils to mush (and usually prefer mushier red lentil or split mung bean), but in summer dishes I like a toothier bean.

Prep veggies and herbs and mix together in a 3 qt or larger bowl. Mix together dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Add dressing and lentils to bowl and toss.

Crumbling in some plain chevre takes it up another level, but it's pretty good without, too.

A little more about Slow Absorption Cooking

I don't know if there's a more official appellation for this cooking method, but "slow absorption" seems to cover it pretty well. The basic principle of it is that you bring a grain or legume to a boil in a covered pot of water, let it boil for a short while, then remove it from the heat and let it coast. It's a fabulous strategy when you're trying to minimize the amount of time the stove is on, but it does require a little more forethought. On the other hand, it requires direct attention for less time. I often set up a pot of lentils or rice right before I go to bed. It's great: I bring it to a boil, turn it off, go to bed and wake up to it perfectly cooked. Sometimes I don't quite know what I'm going to do with it when I start, but there's roughly 210 things to do with a pot of cooked rice, so I don't worry about finding a use for it. You can even make a whole meal this way, but that's a story for another day.

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