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Lentil and Spring Lettuce Salad
By Charlie Burke

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Lentils are a staple in our pantry because they are easily cooked for soup and
make interesting seasonal salads when combined with fresh local produce. We
dress them simply with extra virgin olive oil and good vinegar or citrus juice,
depending upon other ingredients. I always include garlic, onion or shallots,
but then use whatever is in the garden.

Heirloom tomatoes and fresh herbs play well against the neutral lentils, as do
sweet or hot peppers, new peas and pea tendrils, carrots or radishes. There is
no real recipe, so choose whatever is fresh and feel free to mix and match
flavors for a hearty salad that makes a filling light lunch or a side to replace
potatoes or other starches.

There are several kinds of lentils, which vary in color from orange to dull
brown. I prefer the smaller French lentils because they cook quickly, needing
no soaking, and maintain their texture, but the different varieties are essentially
interchangeable. Like all dried legumes, they are best the year they are dried,
so buy them from health food stores or wherever turnover is rapid.

Four servings:

1 ½ cups French lentils
1 head best quality loose leaf lettuce
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped spring onion or red onion
½ red pepper, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1-2 spring radishes, chopped (optional)
½ cup chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, marjoram, basil, chives or mint
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or lemon or lime juice
Freshly ground pepper and kosher or sea salt to taste
1-2 tablespoons chopped nuts, raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
Flesh of 1 peeled and chopped orange or lime (optional)

Rinse the lentils, place them into a pan and cover them with an inch or so of
water. Bring them to a boil and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes until tender but
firm. Place the lentils into a strainer and rinse with cold water.

Place the lentils into a bowl and add all ingredients except the herbs and
tomatoes, if using. Toss well and taste, correcting the seasoning and adding
more olive oil or acid, as needed. The salad can be refrigerated overnight.

To serve, mix in the herbs (and tomatoes, if using) and taste again for
seasoning. Place several lettuce leaves on a plate, mound the salad in the
center and drizzle with a small volume of olive oil.

We probably never make this the same way twice, adding herbs or fruit
according to availability, and the vegetables change with the seasons. It
remains a favorite because it is healthy and low calorie but filling and full of
the rich flavors of our garden. Mint is one of our favorites, but it is always
interesting to vary the mix of herbs.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at
Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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