Green Lentil and Feta Salad

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Thanks to Mike’s recent post about Hot Buttered Rum, you now know some rather intimate and embarrassing details of my life, such as:

a) I mutter incomprehensible things in my sleep.
b) I also snore.
b) I snore more when I’m sick.
c) I’ve been sick.

Thank you, Mike, for those elaborations.  Note to the internet:  If he starts talking about bed-wetting, TURN OFF YOUR MONITOR, THE MAN IS A LIAR, YOUNG TINA WAS ABSOLUTELY NORMAL AND FINE, SO THERE.  

*I think that made me wheeze a little*

But yes, it’s true, I’ve been sick.  We all get sick, and cold and flu season has been well underway for months now.  I’m lucky to have remained unscathed thus far. I get that….logically.  But I still become irrationally ANGRY when I get sick.  I’m not as much into feeling sorry for myself and seeking sympathy as I am into baleful glares at no one in particular, and malevolent plotting of my virus’ inevitable demise.  Being sick makes me seek vengeance, and this time even more so.  

You see, when I get a cold or flu it hits me hard, knocks me down, and I sleep for about 18 hours before I wake up and feel like a new woman again.  This happens about twice a year.  You could argue that I rarely get sick but I’m chronically sleep deprived.  So, on Friday morning when I woke up and coughed out little buttons of lung, I figured that it was okay – the weekend was coming and if I got a good night’s sleep that night then I would be fine to go out on Saturday night…and when I wasn’t, my rage began to snowball.  I’m not a good patient.  I glower, I rage, I flounce and I mutter.  I’m also not very easy to tend to, and Mike’s suggestion of maybe making me some soup was met with (my paltry attempt at seeming sweet and agreeable) a suspiciously wide eyed gaze, simpering smile, and “ooh, babe, that would be really nice, and I would really appreciate the effort that you put in, but….but if you REALLY wanted to make me happy, I could really go for a cheeseburger.  From Tommy’s.  They’re still open if you go right now………….HEY, DON’T FORGET THE BACON!!!!”  One day I will lose my appetite.  That was not the day. 

Anyway, the good doctor has given me steroids, bronchio-dilators, antibiotics (ridiculous horse pills, those), anti-allergy medications (just in case?) and told me to take some Gravol to help with the nausea.  I never was one to shy away from good drugs, and today I am finally starting to feel human again.  A little.  Bit by bit.  If nothing else, today I checked my personal email for the first time since last Thursday, I almost had the energy to shave my legs (almost..sorry ’bout your luck, Mike), and I finally felt like walking back into the kitchen.  So!!  DINNER!!!  THAT ISN’T TAKEOUT OR FROM A BOX!!  YIPPEEEEE!!!!!

I love Greek food about as much as I love Thai food, Indian food, Lebanese food, Italian food……okay, I love food.  Lentils aren’t as popular in traditional Greek cuisine as they are in your typical Middle or Far Eastern fare.  However, this salad is all about my favorite Greek flavors – tangy lemon, salty feta, fresh dill and cooling mint, combined with some crunchy vegetables and earthy legumes.  This is somewhere between the old Greek and the neo-Greek cuisines, but what I like about it is that it’s easy (because I’m still a bit tired and whiny), fresh, healthy, and….cheap. Because when you’ve just paid the mortgage, phone and credit card bills, a cheap and easy dinner seems A-OK……

Green Lentil and Feta Salad

Serves 4 for a meal sized salad, 6 as an appetizer

  • 2 cups green lentils *
  • 5 cups water
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 large juicy lemon (1 tsp zest + juice of whole)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 green pepper
  • 5-6 radishes
  • 1/4 medium red onion
  • 5 mint sprigs (about 2 tbsp when finely chopped)
  • small handful of dill (about 1/4 cup when finely chopped)
  • 200 g feta cheese (about 1 cup) **
  • salt and pepper to taste

* I have a total love affair for legumes, and lentils can do no wrong in my book.  I love the versatility of lentils, and I can’t believe that this is actually the first time that I’ve done a lentil post on the site.  Alright, so let’s talk lentil.  The first thing to look for is the color.  Red and yellow lentils (or split green lentils) tend to break down easily into a pulpy mash, perfect for adding some fiber to sauces, texture to soup, or making delicious daal – which I adore.  Brown and green lentils tend to hold their shape better when cooked. Brown lentils have a rich, earthy and slightly nutty flavor. Green lentils have a slightly more delicate, peppery (but still quite earthy) flavor and a finer texture.  My favorite type of green lentil is the French Le Puy, which holds it’s shape beautifully, has a slightly peppery flavor, and a delicious toothsome texture.  But…Le Puy are expensive.  I go for the regular ol’ green lentils, which are actually green-brown (as you’ll find in both taste and texture) but they get the job done for $1.50 a bag.  

** Cheese is one of those things that I tend to harp on about, possibly because I just really love cheese and if you start eating BAD cheese then you forget how good GOOD cheese can be!  If I ever have a mission, it will be to bring cheese to the people.  Except for the lactose intolerant.  I’ll leave them with their soy, generous soul that I am.  Feta is one of those cheeses where the chasmic difference between Ziggy’s vacuum sealed dried and tasteless feta, and creamy, briny, delectable imported sheep milk feta, is surprisingly only a couple of dollars.  Splurge, won’t you?  Spend the extra couple of bucks and buy something that you’ll enjoy.  (I’m sorry, Ziggy’s.  I’ll still buy your mild marbled cheddar when nobody’s looking).

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Yes, there are two lemons in the picture above.  I really don’t know why I did that.  Was it to add more color to the picture?  Was it to cover up the label on my el-cheapo red wine vinegar?  Or is it merely to distract you from noticing all the empty spice jars on the left which I haven’t put away yet, even though my Clean The Spice Rack campaign has been waging for over a week now.  There are many reasons why I do these things, including the fact that feeling well enough to make dinner does not necessarily make me well enough to string a proper sentence together, as I’m sure you’ll discover during the progression of this post.  

There was a time when lentils needed to be soaked before they were cooked.  This time has come and passed.  What you do need to do, however, particularly if you buy your lentils from a discount or bulk food store (which is totally okay) is spread them out in a shallow pan and pick through the pulses for any small pebbles, grit, chaff, or damaged goods which have fallen into the mix.

In a medium sized pot add the picked over lentils and cover them with the 5 cups of water.  Bring this up to a boil and then cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and let them simmer away for 40 minutes or until the lentils are tender.

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In the mean time, make the salad dressing.  Press or grate the garlic cloves into a medium-large mixing bowl.  Zest about 1/4 of the lemon, enough to yield a rough teaspoon of zest, and add this to the garlic.  

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Squeeze in the juice of your entire lemon (mind the pits, of course) and add in the red wine vinegar.  Give this a quick whisk, and then very slowly pour in the olive oil in a thin and steady stream, whisking continuously, until everything is incorporated and homogenized as best you can.  Season this with salt and pepper to taste, remembering that the bowl will eventually fill with lentils and vegetables that like their salt.

That’s it for now!  Let the dressing be until the lentils are cooked.

When the lentils are tender, drain them and give them a very quick rinse (5-10 seconds, max – really, please) under lukewarm water before adding them to the dressing and giving the whole jin bang show a good stir to combine.  Lentils absorb so much more flavor and dressing when they’re warm and freshly cooked, so take advantage of this opportunity.

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Now that the lentils are tossed in the dressing and starting to cool down (a gentle stir here and there will help this along), start cutting up the vegetables.

Cut the tops off of the peppers and scoop out the seeds and ribs.  Cut both the red and green peppers into a 1/4 inch dice.

Next, top and tail the radishes before cutting them into a finer 1/8 inch dice.

Finally, mince the onions finely – no more than 1/8 inch in length and preferably thinner.

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Add the cut vegetables et al. to the dressed lentils, and give everything a quick stir to combine.

Finely chop the fresh mint and dill and add this to the mix.

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When the herbs are well mixed in, crumble in the feta cheese  but make sure that there are still some nice big chunks.  Why?  Because, well, cheese is cheese.  People like cheese.  I like cheese.  Give the people what they want.

Gently stir in the feta, and you’re done!  Green Lentil and Feta Salad is heart-healthy, affordable, filling, easy to make on the fly, and delightfully tasty….for a bowl that’s mainly legumes.  Served with some thinly sliced baguette, and I’d say that this is a meal waiting to happen. 

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And yes, I garnished the plate with dill sprigs, aka “a bunch of stringy weeds”.  You can judge me if I’m still pulling stunts like this after I regain the use of my sinuses, but please cut me a bit of slack for the time being.  I’m still weak and tired. 

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Did I mention that this is a fiber packed, protein rich and flavorful lunch-salad to pack for work?  Because it does fit just perfectly into a tupperware, with the flavors mingling and melding even more the next day.  And yes, despite the fact that I hork out portions of my abdomen every ten minutes, I can’t help myself from going to work.  Maybe I love my job, maybe I have issues.  It’s hard to say.  

Anyway, back to the salad.  It’s also just filling enough that when you eat said lunch at work, you’re 50% less likely to eat as many cookies over the course of the afternoon.  Maybe.  Sometimes I make outrageous claims, just try to go with it. 

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  • http://www.kalofagas.ca Peter

    Well, look on the brightside Tina…at least your posts don’t make us snore! 😉

    Hope you’re well, good advice on Feta…by sheep, goat or a combo of both for Feta and remember…Greek feta!

  • http://justsmooty.blogspot.com EJS

    This looks Absolutely. FANTASTIC. I can’t wait to give this one a try. Hurray for cheap and filling vegetarian meals!

  • BDanger

    Yum, this looks AMAZING and like it would fill me up past my normal 3:00 candy musings. I’m buying lentils today!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Peter – I agree, you Greeks know your feta!

    EJS – Thank you so much! I try to make many vegetarian meals at home because:
    a) they’re usually cheap
    b) I’m usually broke
    So…..YAY for healthy, fiber filled and delicious lentils, rice and beans!!!

    BDanger – whoa, hey, let’s not get crazy here. I said that you may be less likely to eat cookies…I make no such claims for CANDY. After all, candy makes the world go ’round.

  • http://www.eatingclubvancouver.com [eatingclub] vancouver || js

    I know what I’m making tomorrow. Yummy, yummy, yummy.

  • http://kopiaste.org Ivy

    Glad to hear that you are feeling much better now Tina.
    Your lentil salad sounds very interesting and since it is Lent and we do not eat cheese I still would like to try and make it somewhat different.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Thank you Ivy!! I didn’t know that cheese was not eaten on Lent – I don’t think I’ve lasted more than a week without cheese in YEARS. You must have a lot of willpower!

  • http://closetcooking.blogspot.com/ Kevin

    Nice looking lentil salad!

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