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September, 2008

French Green Lentil Salad

By Heidi Allison

In this rustic salad, the Puy’s delicate, peppery flavor with a soft mineral grace note is paired with lightly pan-roasted carrots and shaved fennel.


French Green Lentil Salad with Carrots and Shaved Fennel in Hazelnut Oil Vinaigrette
Lentils, also known as pulse, are members of the legume family. They are classified according to their size, either large or small, and come in a variety of colors – green, brown, orange, yellow, red and black. Sold whole or split, these round, oval or heart-shaped disks create hearty, protein-rich soups, salads and side dishes that are good for your heart, weight, blood sugar and digestion.

The French green lentil, also known as the Puy lentil, is considered the crème de la crème of pulses. Originating in the Auvergen region of France, this green and slate-colored legume has a firmer texture compared to other lentils (they contain less starch), making it the ideal choice for boldly seasoned salads or savory sides paired with rich meats, confit of duck or pan-seared fish. In this rustic salad, the Puy’s delicate, peppery flavor with a soft mineral grace note is paired with lightly pan-roasted carrots and shaved fennel. A nutty hazelnut vinaigrette provides the flavor point that pulls this dish together – it not only heightens the sweet taste of the carrots and fennel but adds a touch of savory sass to these rich, earthy tasting legumes.

On the nutritional front, lentils are a good source of protein, folic acid, and fiber. These heart-healthy legumes pack a two-way punch to lower high cholesterol levels – the soluble fiber helps your body eliminate cholesterol by binding to it, so it can be excreted. Recent evidence found lentils will also slow the liver’s production of cholesterol. The fiber in lentils aids digestion by speeding up the transit time through the intestine; this means it can alleviate constipation and reduce the risk and symptoms of diverticulosis, a condition in which small pouches form in the colon wall. It occurs more often in the elderly, and in countries that eat a fiber-deficient diet – such as our highly refined Western diet. A study conducted by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health discovered diets rich in lentils and peas, which contain high levels of flavones, reduce the risk of breast cancer. Other studies found lentils provide one of the highest sources of antioxidants in winter-grown legumes.

French Green Lentil Salad with Carrots and Shaved Fennel in Hazelnut Oil Vinaigrette

Lentil Salad

Serves: 4-6

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 fennel bulb, shaved into ¼- inch slices (about 1 cup)
1 carrot, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 17.05 oz. package Melissa’s French Green Lentils, at room temperature
5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme, stems removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon minced fennel fronds
10-15 drops (light squeeze) of fresh lemon juice

Hazelnut Oil Dressing
1/3 cup hazelnut oil
1 ½ Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Place hazelnut oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk until incorporated. Set aside. Place 2 tablespoons of olive oil (enough to film the bottom) in a heavy, large skillet on medium heat and add shallots, fennel, thyme and carrots. Sauté until just tender but still a bit crunchy – about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and place in a large bowl. Add lentils and toss. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of hazelnut dressing and top with minced fennel fronds. Squeeze 10-15 drops of fresh lemon juice over the salad and toss lightly again. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Author’s Notes:
Try this dish paired with pan-seared halibut. Add just a touch of fresh lemon juice right before serving to “brighten” the dish. Be careful with this ingredient – too much will overwhelm it.