Last year, following a friend’s initiative, in the name of sustainability, I decided to cut down on the amount of meat and fish I consume and try my best not to eat meat during weekdays. I also started looking for recipes and cookbooks that are more vegetable-centric.
I chanced upon Rachel Khoo’s Puy lentil salad while I was watching her BBC series The Little Paris Kitchen. I like this recipe as it is simple, quick and most importantly, still hearty. I have a couple of friends who are vegetarians–they always end up eating the same leafy salads a couple of times a week. While I love my vegetables, I’d rather not eat like a rabbit. Instead, I want something flavourful and substantial, and this Puy lentil salad was it.
The key ingredient to this salad is the lentille verte du Puy. These lentils are cultivated in a region called Auvergne of France. Because of the climate and the mineral rich soil they grow in, Puy lentils have this nutty and smoky flavour. Unlike the common lentils or the French green lentils, when cooked, Puy lentils hold their shape very well, and do not get mushy easily.
However, getting hold of a pack of lentille verte du Puy in Singapore was not as easy as I thought it would be. I went to the more upscale supermarkets like Jasons, Jones the Grocer and ThreeSixty–none of them seem to stock Puy lentils. Just when I was about to give up, I remembered Culina at Dempsey Hill. I made a call to Culina and jackpot, they have Puy lentils. I trekked my way to the mountains (yes, I consider Dempsey a mountainous area especially when one doesn’t drive), found the lentils, checked the packaging and happily made my purchase.
It is important to check the packaging of the Puy lentils. More often than not, manufacturers pass off French green lentils as Puy lentils. On the packaging, there should be an A.O.P. (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) logo. This will ensure that you are getting the real deal. That said, if you think it is a hassle to hunt down Puy lentils, you can substitute it with the commonly found type of lentils. Still, I must caution you, you are missing out on a lot of flavour.
Once I’ve got the right lentils, the rest is pretty easy. It’s mostly assembly work. This salad has only a few core ingredients yet it’s packed full of flavour. The dill vinaigrette is important here as it is refreshing and “aniseedy”, and pulls the whole dish together. Once I’ve consumed this salad, I don’t feel hungry or deprived. If you are looking at ways to incorporate vegetarian meals into your diet, do try this Puy lentil salad, it is enjoyable and satisfying.
Rachel Khoo’s puy lentil salad with goat’s cheese, beetroot and dill vinaigrette
(Adapted from Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen)
This dish is pretty versatile. If you do not like beetroot, consider substituting it with pumpkin or carrots. When I first made this dish, I used goat cheese as instructed and it was only then that I realised, I don’t actually like goat cheese. The second time I made it, I had some cottage cheese in my fridge and used that instead, and the salad tasted equally fabulous. If you are like me and not crazy about goat cheese, you can also use mozzarella or feta.
Start by roasting the beetroot first. During the last 15 minutes of roasting, start to cook the lentils and make the vinaigrette.
Recipe type: Lunch, Dinner
Author: Rachel Khoo
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Serves: 4 as a starter, or 2 as a main course
1 medium size beetroot
200g Puy lentils
1 bay leaf (if you cannot find fresh ones, it is ok to use dried bay leaves)
1 sprig of thyme
Salt and black pepper
200g fresh soft goat’s cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
½ bunch of dill*
2 tablespoons sunflower oil (or any neutral flavoured oil – I used grapeseed oil)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
A pinch of sugar
Roast the beetroot
– Preheat your oven to 200oC** and wash the beetroot.
– Wrap the beetroot in aluminium foil and place it on a baking tray. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until the beetroot is tender (but not mushy, it should still have a bite).
– Roasted beetroot is sweet and mellow in taste (not as muddy as raw beetroot). However if you do not like beetroot, you can use carrots or pumpkin. You can use the same method to roast them, it should take around 30-45 minutes.
– Once the beetroot is roasted, peeled and finely slice it with a mandolin (always use the hand guard) or a sharp knife.
– Wash the Puy lentils in cold running water and strain.
– Put the washed lentils in a pot together with the bay leaf, thyme and a generous pinch of salt. Cover the lentils with cold water that is at least double the volume, and cook for 15 minutes or until tender. It is important to use cold water so that the cooking is even and the lentils don’t turn mushy on the outside and uncooked on the inside.
– Once the lentils are cooked, drain and wash them with cold water to prevent them from cooking further. Remove the bay leaf and thyme, and set aside.
– While waiting for the lentils to cook, start on the vinaigrette.
– Using a food processor, put in the dill (including the stalks), oil, white wine vinegar, salt and sugar, and whizz them up. Taste and add more salt or sugar as desired. If you find the vinaigrette a bit stiff, add in a bit more oil to loosen the mixture.
– If you do not own a food processor, make the vinaigrette using a pestle and mortar or an immersion blender.
To assemble the dish, divide the lentils equally among the plates. Place the sliced beetroot on top and crumble the goat’s cheese. Drizzle the dill vinaigrette and olive oil, and finish with a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.
*If you are getting your dill from the supermarket, it usually comes in a small packet. You will need around 4 packs.
**If you do not have an oven, you can do this via a toaster oven or a steamer. The cooking time is about the same. You just need to check on it and make sure the vegetable is tender (but not mushy).