Meatless Monday: Spiced lentil salad with currants and capers

This simple and customizable lentil salad works well as a side dish, or packed in a lunch the next day. Add some arugula or spinach to make it a main course.

Garden of Eating
Use any bright and crunchy additions of your choice in this lentil salad. Toasted nuts, goat cheese, and crunchy veggies are a good start.

This is a salad that actually improves with time. Although it's delicious right away, it tastes even better the next day when all the good flavors have had a chance to meld and soak into the lentils in a truly delightful way.

The recipe comes by way of my beloved Aunt Maggie. Technically, she's actually my husband's aunt but I decided early on in our relationship that there would be nothing "in-law" about it. She's one of those wonderful individuals who likes to get her hands dirty – raising her own lambs and chickens (and killing 'em, too), growing her own food, tapping her own maple trees, canning her own tomatoes – you get the picture. Maggie is a rare soul – she's full of life, full of fun, down to earth, creative, loyal, a ready listener, and a great cook, of course.

Maggie made this lentil salad as part of a feast-style dinner she laid out last time we visited – a month or so before our second son was born. The amazing meal included grilled lamb that had grown fat on the grass in the very field we looked out on from the dinner table, baked taters that had only recently parted with the dirt they were grown in, green salad from her garden, and culminating in homemade strawberry shortcake made with berries from the farm up the road.

It was all so delicious and the baby-to-be was leaving so little space for my stomach by that point in the pregnancy that I spent the rest of the evening in extreme discomfort – stuffed to the bursting point. But it was worth it! 

As with many of the salads I like, this one is open to interpretation – there are lots of potential additions or you can keep it simple. I had some sweet peppers, celery, and carrots on hand so I went with those bright and crunchy additions along with a generous helping of chopped Italian parsley and cilantro. You could also add some fresh arugula or baby spinach, a handful of toasted nuts, some goat cheese and any other veggies you have on hand that you think would make a good addition. 

Make plenty of this salad to ensure that you get to enjoy the even-more delicious leftovers. It should keep for a few days in the fridge. And please raise a fork to my aunt Maggie when you make it.

Spiced lentil salad with currants and capers 
Adapted slightly from the lovely blog, My New Roots 
Serves 4-6 as a side

2-1/4 cups (1 lb.) Du Puy lentils

1/4 medium red onion, finely diced

1 cup dried currants (you could also use raisins or other dried fruit and chop them up finely)

1/3 cup capers

Fresh herbs, chopped (parsley, cilantro, basil, or mint) to taste

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1 medium bell pepper, seeds and stem removed and diced

1 clove of garlic, peeled

1 bay leaf 

For the dressing:

1/3 cup cold pressed, extra virgin organic olive oil

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon strong mustard

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Rinse the lentils well and pick through them to remove any dirt or bits of rock. Drain them, then put them in a pot with the garlic clove and the bay leaf and cover with 3-4 inches of water. Cover and bring to a boil then turn the heat down and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes. You should start testing the lentils for doneness at around 15 minutes in, just in case, since you don't want to overcook them – mushy lentils are just not as appealing as toothsome ones.

2. While the lentils are simmering, make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously to combine. If you don't have all the spices, don't despair, it will probably still taste good with just some of them – for me, the cumin and coriander are the most important ones to include.

3. Dice up the onion (very fine) and chop up your veggies and herbs, trying to get the vegetables cut to roughly the same size. If you're using raisins instead of currants, I'd chop them up a bit and you can do the same with the capers if you have large ones.

4. When the lentils are finished, take the pot off the heat, drain it and fill with cold water to stop the lentils from continuing to cook (and getting mushy). After a few minutes, drain the water out and pour the lentils into a serving bowl and toss with the dressing. Add the onions, herbs, veggies, currants and capers (and any other ingredients you've chosen to add) and serve.

As I mentioned, this tastes even better the next day so you can definitely make it ahead of time and just keep it covered in the fridge.

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