I made this salad for Easter lunch on Sunday. I imagined it as I went. Or so I thought.
Many people liked it a lot, and one friend in particular complimented me on the originality of the pairing. I graciously accepted the comment, but all the while something in the back of my mind was nagging. Surely I had not really come up with the idea. I must have seen it somewhere. Speaking to my mother on the phone the next day I asked her about this salad. Had she not previously made something similar that might have half-consciously inspired me?
My mother is an incredible cook, and a nutritionist. Not a steamed-carrots-and-brown-rice kind of nutritionist. She loves good food, really good food. Meat, fish, vegetables, salads, desserts, and – yes – butter. She has written a few books about nutrition, one of which is a book of recipes. Sure enough, one of those recipes is a lentil salad with fennel, parsley, and coriander.
This lentil and fennel salad is different, but the inspiration – as it turns out and like so many other things in my life without my realizing it at first – is my mother’s.
1 cup green lentils (preferably Castelluccio or du Puy)
1 small red onion
2 bulbs fennel
A generous handful flat-leaved parsley
1 bay leaf
3 Tbsps good olive oil
2 Tbsps balsamic vinegar
Juice and zest from 1 lemon (more lemon juice may be required depending on how juicy it is)
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
The lentils are cooked the same way as for this basic lentils recipe
Pick through the lentils to look for small stone intruders that must be discarded.
To wash lentils, cover with cold water and drain in a fine mesh sieve.
Peel and cut into large chunks the onion and half a fennel, reserving the rest of the fennel for later.
Place lentils into a medium-sized saucepan with 2 cups (double the volume) water. Add vegetable chunks, a few sprigs of parsley, and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil and let simmer, covered, for about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat when the lentils are cooked to your liking – I like them to retain a nice bite. Discard sprigs of parsley and vegetable chunks, pour lentils into a large bowl, and place in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.
Wash and finely chop the rest of the parsley.
Cut the fennel in half. Place it face side down onto the cutting board, and cut into thin strips, height-wise.
Season the lentils with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and zest, salt, and pepper. **The measurements given above are suggestions. I find that lentils hold up to a bold amount of acidity. It is best to season gradually, and adjust according to taste.**
Toss the lentils with the fennel and parsley. Check one last time for seasoning, adjust if necessary, and serve.