What kind of salads did the Jews eat as they went trekking through the burning desert? That’s been my fiery question as we head into the tail end of summer. After all, it’s a time for light, healthy fare that won’t weigh you down or affect your swimsuit presentation should you be lucky enough to be vacationing on a beach somewhere other than San Francisco. So I Googled “wandering Jews” and “salad” and what I found was a world of lentils.
I love a good lentil. Get the little red ones and they cook in 12 minutes flat. Get the hearty brown ones and you can literally forget about them and they’ll still purée into a perfectly decent soup. But we’re not talking soup. We’re talking salad, and so green French lentils are your best friend. Simmer gently for 15 minutes and they become tooth tender and able to hold their own against a bright vinaigrette.
You really only need one good lentil salad recipe to raise your head high at a summer potluck, so in other salad news, let’s just pretend that arugula was a staple for our ancient ancestors. I know that kale is the green of the moment, and arugula is just so 2003, but don’t you adore that spicy little leaf? Toss in some figs, dry cotija cheese and a smattering of sunflower seeds, and you’ll be sitting pretty all potluck (or beach vacation) long.
French Lentils with Anise and Summer Golds
1 1/2 cups French green lentils
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
6 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 cup onion, finely diced
2 cups fennel bulb, finely diced (1 medium bulb)
1 Tbs. garlic, minced
2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper
1⁄16 tsp. allspice (fill 1/8 tsp. halfway)
1 pint golden cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1⁄3 cup minced parsley
4-5 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
Rinse the lentils and remove any stones. Place in large saucepan and cover with water about 2 inches above the lentils. Add bay leaf and star anise. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes until just tender. Drain lentils and remove and discard bay leaf and anise. Transfer to a large platter to cool. When just about room temperature, transfer to a large bowl.
While lentils are cooking, heat 2 Tbs. of the olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté onion and fennel for 2 minutes. Immediately stir in minced garlic and sauté 1 more minute.
In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, add remaining 4 Tbs. olive oil, sherry vinegar, Dijon, orange juice, salt, pepper and allspice. Tighten lid and shake vigorously to combine. Pour dressing over lentils in large bowl. Toss. Stir in sautéed onion and fennel mixture, tomatoes and parsley. Garnish with goat cheese and serve.
Arugula and Fig Salad
6 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. honey (if solid, heat gently till liquid)
1/4 tsp. sumac
1/4 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
5 cups baby arugula (packed gently)
8 small figs, sliced in rounds
2 oz. cotija cheese, crumbled
2 Tbs. salted roasted sunflower seeds
In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine olive oil, lemon juice, honey, sumac, salt and pepper. Tighten lid and shake vigorously to combine. In a large salad bowl combine arugula and figs. Dress and toss to taste (6 Tbs. dressing is just about perfect). Garnish with cotija and sunflower seeds.
Josie A.G. Shapiro won the 2013 Man-O Manischewitz Cook-Off, is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet” and works at the JCC of San Francisco. Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Her website is www.thechickencontests.com.