I’m in a bit of a mental slump. It’s not like my mind is void and I’m not thinking, it’s that I can’t *stop* thinking. My brain is in this constant state of ohmygoshweneedtodohomeworkweneedtostudyswedishweneedtofindathesisproject and I can’t shut it off. I can’t sleep. And that is turning my brain to mush.
Last weekend I went to a ladies dinner, turned up early to help, and then proceeded to, uncharacteristically, not help at all. Usually I’m all up in everyone’s business in the kitchen, especially in this kitchen, but this time I just sat. I painted my nails. I attempted (unsuccessfully) to find an interesting newspaper article to talk about in my Swedish class. I drank a glass of wine (which was tremendous for making me feel better in the moment, but not so much the next morning) (okay, it was more than one glass).
I didn’t do totally nothing; I brought a cheesecake (I tried a new recipe which was just meh), and I made this salad, which is all kinds of delicious. The star of the show is beluga lentils, gently simmered with onion, garlic, and a bay leaf, then tossed with red wine vinegar and a bit of salt. Big spoonfuls of the lentils go down on a bed of peppery arugula, and get surrounded by cherry tomatoes (which, if you’re going to go for indoor tomatoes at this time of year, I think are the way to go in terms of flavour). This is a nice salad. But! Halloumi comes along and steals the thunder. Little cubes of panfried halloumi, salty and crispy on the outside, soft and squeaky on the inside, make the perfect croutons for this situation. A sprinkle of capers and a drizzle of your good balsamic and your best olive oil finish the whole thing off. If you’re feeling really decadent, double the amount of halloumi and serve big slabs on top of the salad rather than little cubes.
And the thing is, if you cook the lentils ahead of time, which is just a matter of throwing a few things into a pot and being present to check on it for 20-30 minutes, the salad comes together in a flash. All is left is cubing the halloumi, a couple of minutes of frying, and you can pull together plated salads for eight people in under five minutes, even if your brain is mush. I encourage you to not only cook the lentils ahead of time, but to cook twice the volume as I’ve called for here (the recipe is for 4 portions). The lentils are delicious on their own, and you’ll find all kinds of ways to use them throughout the week, even if just eating spoonfuls right from the container as you’re standing infront of an open fridge contemplating your next move.
Beluga Lentil Salad with Halloumi Croutons Recipe:
It’s taken me a while to perfect the art of cooking firm little lentils like these. The trick is a quick boil, a gentle simmer, and a keen eye. They can go from not quite ready to perfect to mush really quickly if you’re not careful. And while mushy lentils are great in some situations (like this lentil loaf) this is not one of them. Halloumi is a semi-firm unripened brined cheese from Cyprus made from a mixture of goat, and sheep, and cows milk. It has a high melting point so it can be pan fried or grilled and does not fall apart. If you can’t find Halloumi (check specialty food stores or Greek markets) then cubed and pan fried feta would be a good substitute.
1 cup beluga lentils, or other small lentils such as du puy
1/2 a yellow onion, peeled, but root intact
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp red wine vinegar
salt to taste
250g arugula leaves, washed and dried (about 4 cups)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
250g halloumi, cubed
4 Tbsp capers
your best olive oil and balsamic vinegar for drizzling
pepper for sprinkling
Check the lentils over for stones and give them a good rinse, then set them in a pot with 1 1/2 cups of water, 1/2 an onion, the smashed garlic clove, and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer with the lid ajar for about 20 minutes. Start checking them at around the 15 min mark and check every few minutes after that. The lentils should be just barely tender, and still slightly toothsome. Almost all of the water should be absorbed – add more if you need to along the way, the pot shouldn’t run dry.
When the lentils are done, fish out the onion, garlic clove, and bay leaf, and drain well. Place them in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp of red wine vinegar, and a little salt. Stir, then let stand for 5-10 minutes. Give the lentils a taste and decide if you want to use the rest of the oil and vinegar (I usually do). Remember that these are going into a salad with a lot of big flavours, so it isn’t essential that they have huge flavour, but nor should they be bland. Set aside, or refrigerate if you’re not making the salad immediately.
Scatter four salad plates with arugula. Place 1/4 of the lentils into the center of each plate, and then drop the cherry tomatoes into place. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Dice the halloumi into little cubes. Place into the pan, and fry, turning often, until they are lightly golden brown. Immediately distribute the halloumi croutons amongst the four plates, then top each with 1 Tbsp of capers. Drizzle each plate with a small amount of your best olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a little bit of freshly ground pepper. There are enough salty elements on the plate that you shouldn’t need to salt these salads. Serve, and enjoy!
Halloumi is cheese all the way and definitely a moderation situation. A little goes a long way flavour wise, and it is quite salty. I like to enjoy it as a treat from time to time, but I don’t make a habit of eating a lot of it very often.
Lentils are a nutritional powerhouse. They are a great source of dietary fiber, manganese, iron, and protein.
All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2013