Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Spinach, Lentil & Feta Salad with Sour Cherry Vinaigrette

Spinach, Lentil & Feta Salad with Sour Cherry Vinaigrette
Serves: 6-8
Spinach, Lentil & Feta Salad with Sour Cherry Vinaigrette 
This would serve as a hardy and delicious vegetarian lunch entrĂ©e. It is also great as a side dish. The recipe below makes ample dressing. I found this a plus – and used the leftover dressing on mixed greens one day and a grilled chicken breast the following day. The addition of lentils to a green salad really gives it a protein and fiber boost, which is enhanced, by the unique tangy-sweet vinaigrette.
lentilles du Puy 
Lentils, like other legumes, are low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but they have the added advantage of cooking quickly. They have a mild, often earthy flavor. The best, most delicate lentils are the peppery French green lentils. There really is a difference between ordinary green French lentils and the lentilles du Puy. The latter are indeed the most fantastic lentils in the world. Their unique nutty flavor is attributed to the volcanic soil where they grow, sans fertilizer, which gives them their fine, mineral-rich taste. The climate in the Auvergne also contributes to their unique texture: a lack of humidity and abundant sunshine, courtesy of the surrounding mountains and volcanic deposits, ensures that the lentils dry on the plant all by themselves. Consequently, they have less starch so do not get all mushy and muddy when cooked. Look for the AOC seal on the package to identify the true lentilles du Puy. Believe me, there’s no comparison.
  • 1 C dried green lentils (preferably Lentils du Puy), picked over and rinsed
  • Water, chicken or vegetable broth to cover lentils
  • 4 C lightly packed fresh spinach, washed, drained and stems removed
  • 1 small red onion, halved through the root end and thinly sliced
  • 6 ounces drained sheep milk feta cheese, cut into ½ “ cubes
  • ¾ C Sour Cherry Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place 1 C lentils in a saucepan, add enough water, chicken or vegetable broth to cover by 3 inches, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes for Du Puy French lentils, 20 minutes for regular green lentils. The lentils will be just tender and still holding their shape. Drain the lentils and set aside to cool slightly.

Chopped onions for the salad
Fresh spinach leaves
Place the 4 C lightly packed fresh spinach, onion and feta in a large bowl. Toss gently to blend.  Do not over mix as the spinach may bruise and feta could crumble. When ready to serve, add cooked lentils and the Sour Cherry Vinaigrette, salt and pepper to taste, mix gently and distribute to serving plates.
The final product!

Sour Cherry Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 ½ C 
  • ¼ C red wine vinegar
  • ¼ C balsamic vinegar
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • ½ C dried tart cherries or dried cranberries
  • 1 Tb chopped fresh chives
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • ¼ C olive oil
  • ¼ C safflower oil (or canola)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper 

Mix together the red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, shallot, cherries, chives and lime juice in a bowl. Slowly add the olive oil and safflower oil while whisking constantly until well blended. Season with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use or up to 6 days.
Dried cherries add some sweetness and tang to the dressing
Mixing in the oil 
The dried cherries add a unique sweet yet tangy taste to the dressing and the salad. They’re available in most supermarkets and specialty food stores. Try dried cherries in place of other dried fruits – apricots, raisins, currants, cranberries, prunes, etc. – for a slightly different flavor and appealing burgundy red color.  The lentils provide an additional protein and substantive boost to the salad.  Give this one a try.  You will not be disappointed.


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