French Lentils with Dijon
The Lebanese, we love our lentils. There is mujadara. There is lentil soup. In some instances (never my own) there are pureed lentils and onions that call themselves mujadara.
That about sums up our lentil repertoire, at least from my family kitchen standpoint. And let’s face it, lentils need some help, some gentle prodding, to taste superb. Which is why I’ve always admired the super-flavorful, if plain looking, lentils that find their way onto restaurant plates, say with golden seared scallops like those I had not long ago at the lovely Twisted Olive in Petoskey (it sounds like an urban martini bar but it’s a fresh little nook overlooking Little Traverse Bay, with a menu to match the views. But they will, I’m sure, serve you a martini if you want one. Which sometimes, you really do. I take mine with vodka, up, blue cheese olives. When that happens I better buckle myself in because there’s going to be some crazy vodka talk that can’t be contained).
The third dish in my personal lentil portfolio—and I do openly admit to just the three—I started making years ago when I lived on old Seminary in Chicago. I had begun devouring Saveur magazine, and in it there was a particular story about the grape harvest in Beaujolais, France, that captured my imagination so thoroughly that I would find my way over there a few years later. The food served to the grape harvesters in the story was hearty comfort food, but hearty comfort food French-style.
Around here when hard workers need lunch, the golden arches reign. Even if it’s not that bad, it certainly isn’t going to be a menu that includes a super-flavorful lentil salad rendered so with an aromatic cooking broth and a Dijon vinaigrette. Or one that includes the grape harvesters’ dessert of a custardy plum tart, a pastry that I still run to the kitchen to bake every year when the oval Italian plums are in season and that I feel terrible about not having shared with you (yet).
But back to lentils. When you make these lentils, it may seem like much ado about nothing to use a stem of thyme, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of parsley, especially when many of us can’t just run to the garden and pinch off what we need this time of year. Here is where we take a lesson in subtlety, where seasoning like this can only be achieved layer by layer, with that gentle prodding. Who among us is not like the lentil?
Don’t let the plain look of the finished lentils deter you, either. Their appearance belies their burst of flavor, which gets even better as they sit. These lentils make me think of Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis in The Witness; plainsong is a song that is hardly plain. I like to heap the lentils in a French white porcelain gratin dish, a dish that, like the lentils, has more going on than first meets the eye. Both are well worth getting to know.
French Lentil Salad with Dijon
Use tiny French green lentils for this salad, and be careful not to overcook them. It’s worth the effort to use all of the aromatics in the cooking broth. The dressed lentils taste great at room temperature; they will keep in the refrigerator for several days. My recipe is based on one from Saveur’s story on a Beaujolais grape harvest lunch. Makes 4-6 servings.
2 cups French green lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 small yellow onion, peeled and halved
3 sprigs fresh parsley
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
In a medium-sized pot, cover the lentils by about 1 ½ inches with cold water. Add the onion, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and garlic clove. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the lentils are tender.
In a small bowl or glass jar, make the dressing. Add the mustard, vinegar, and oil and whisk or shake until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper, added a little at a time until it tastes just right.
Drain lentils, then remove and discard bay leaf, thyme, parsley, and onions. Dress the warm lentils with the dressing and add the shallots. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve at room temperature.
Print this recipe here.
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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!
Maureen — you certainly tell the best stories about your family and I love reading them. My family (Martha Haddad) knew your dad’s family when they owned the grocery store on Cedar and Greenlawn. I may have told you this a long time ago when you first started writing this wonderful column. I remember walking with my mother to visit your dad’s mother and sitting there while they chatted. That was a very long time ago.
Your uncle Hannibal, dated a friend of mine and I had to be with Art Nakfoor so she could be with him!! Not all bad because they were so humorous.
I think I might have seen you at a wake here in Lansing and should have introduced myself to you. I know Virginia Lasher and she thinks the world and more of your family.
The Twisted Olive sounds tempting — maybe this summer when we are at our place at Crystal Mt., we will have to make it a point to check it out.
Next time I think I see you, I will let you know who I am.
Faithful reader — Emiline
Beautiful story Maureen as usual, also the recipe. To Emiline you brought up some names i have not heard in along time Thank-you for the memories you rekindled.
Love mujadara with salata (oil and red wine vinegar dressing) on top
I just wanted to let you know how much I really enjoy your blog. Although I now live in Cleveland, I grew up in Grand Rapids, which I am sure you know has a large Lebanese population, and I am of Lebanese decent as well. I was excited to find that your recipes were so similar to my mother’s and grandmother’s recipes. Usually there is somewhat of a difference in ingredients, but your family is from an area very close to where my family came from in Lebanon. I also have relatives in Lansing. There last name is Nakfoor and they are dentists there. I don’t know if you know them or not. Anyway thank you for your beautiful blog!
Hi Norma, and thank you! These are also my relatives…we are connected! So glad to see you here.
Small world! Nancy, Bruce and Pat’s mother was my mother’s cousin. They are so wonderful and we are blessed to have them as cousins. BTW your photography is just gorgeous!!!!! I absolutely love it!
My mom, Norma, also told me about your beautiful photography and yummy recipes. I can’t wait to make some of them; I always love to be reminded of my Sitti’s cooking!
Great to see you here, Pamela!
This is by far my favorite lentil salad recipe! I tried it this week, and had to use 1 T of balsamic and 2 T of red wine vinegar, because that’s what was on hand. It came out perfectly, and I can’t wait to have it again. Thank you!
Hi,I love your colmn and articles! I am curious, what is your favorite lentilThe one you most often go to?
Thank you Sally! Depends on what I’m making. Small, round brown lentils for mujaddara. These French green lentils for salads. Also flat red lentils are good in my Quinoa Protein Salad.
It is so nice to read the comments from fellow Lebonese. My family are the Maghes and Estefan’s, some Malooley’s and Haddad’s mostly in Ohio, and ages in Michigan. Thank you for bringing back familiar recipes from my youth. Growing up the only salad we had at dinner was with lemon and oil. I had never tasted an italian dressing still I was an adult. Now of course lemon and oil is all the rage. I make a lentil salad cooked in chicken broth and garnished with parsley, green onions and bacon. Our heritage in food is a common ingredient in the way we develop new and wonderful combinations. When I serve tabooly at large parties people can’t get enough of the “exotic salad”. I’m so grateful that my mother and grandmother taught me to cook these culinary treasures. I remember a roasted chicken dinner my grandmother made with cinnamon. Beyond delicious! Cinnamon with meat? Who knew! Thank you for your site and the lovely way you talk about our heritage.
Beautiful beautiful Joy! Thanks so very much. I’m happy you are here.