Not only am I a vegetarian, but I live in the south. Why am I bringing this up? It’s hard to get a good protein in every meal. And it’s equally hard to get interested in cooking on a hot day. So what to do?
I’ve been fine-tuning and evolving my lentil bulger salad recipe, a solution to both issues. Frankly, this recipe will probably continue to evolve for years to come, but this is how it stands at the moment. Easy to make, since it involves very little cooking or technique. Yet full of flavors that make your mouth happy about salad.
First you need to get about 4 cups of water boiling in a medium pot, and set a half cup of bulger in a heat-friendly bowl with some kind of lid (I’m such a slacker, I use a bowl with a plate to cover it). Really, this is the most actual cooking you’ll be doing, so don’t complain.
Once the water comes to a boil, scoop out a half cup and pour that in with the bulger. Stir up the bulger a bit and plop the lid on, and leave that for 30 minutes. Hard work so far, right? The rest of the water in the pot should still be boiling. Put a half cup of dry lentils in the water, and a half teaspoon of salt (check your lentils to be sure they’re the ones that don’t need to be soaked overnight). Bring the lentils back up to a boil then turn down to a fast simmer for 30 minutes or until they get to chewable consistency. I like the lentils a bit al dente, but some people prefer them soft.
Meanwhile, on your chopping block…
You need to gather and dice, chop, grate, press:
1 small thumb ginger, grated on a microplane
2 medium carrots, grated
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 medium onion, diced small
1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped fine
I personally don’t like all of the stems of the parsley in my mix, so I take the time to pinch off the leaf bunches from the major stems and chop up just the leaves pretty small. A good medium-size bunch of (Italian!) parsley will make up a loose cup to cup-and-a-half.
Usually I toss all of these ingredients into a bowl and set it aside. You also want to get your seasonings together. I love having little glass ramekins around for this. Not because I look like I’m on TV, but because it keeps me organized and I don’t forget an ingredient so easily. Anyhow, in a small bowl or ramekin, you’ll need:
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
(or 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning if you hate curry… boo!)
dash of cayenne
And don’t forget to get out the two most important things… lemon juice and olive oil. If you’re feeling luxurious, fresh lemons are always preferred, but I’m usually not, so I use a good quality pre-squeezed juice. Olive oil is also up to your preference. A good friend who is kind of OCD about this advised me to look for ‘first press’, ‘cold pressed’, and ‘organic’ when choosing olive oil as you’re getting the better stuff (but more on that later).
Also a word about curry powder (I can go on for pages but will not), I highly recommend going to a specialty store for curry powder, and trying different kinds until you find what you like. Traditionally, every family in India has their own blend of spices to make up their curry powder (kind of like plaids in Scotland). So, all curry powder is not the same. It varies in spiciness, sweetness, and strength. And that yellow stuff you buy in your grocery store might do in a pinch (pun intended… haha, I kill me!), but it’s not something you want to have as your go-to curry. In this instance, I’m using a somewhat mild curry blend, but if you have a strong one you like, maybe pull back to a bit less than 1/4 teaspoon or it might drown out all other flavors.
Okay… so that’s all of the cooking out of the way and your kitchen isn’t boiling hot. You might be a bit sweaty from all of the chopping, but that just means you need to work out more. And here’s how…. mixing!
Un-lid your bulger and fluff it up a bit. I have a lovely wooden spoon I spent way too much money on at one of our local arts and craft fairs, but it’s so sexy and sleek, I love to use it for most mixing situations (yes, I’m also a kitchen geek). Drain your lentils and mix them into the bulger with about 1/3 cup of olive oil. Add your seasonings, and mix some more.
Add your carrots, parsley, garlic, ginger, and onion here, and mix up a bit more. I notice the pressed garlic and the grated ginger tend to clump up, so it takes a bit of trying to get these mixed in evenly. Then add in about 1/3 cup lemon juice (I sometimes also add a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar if I’m feeling fancy). And… yes, continue mixing. Firm but broad strokes so you mix everything up instead of turn your lentils and bulger into paste.
I like to set this aside for about a half hour to marinate and get all yummy. This gives me a minute to lay down a bed of lettuce on a plate, dress it with a little pepper and lemon juice, and grate some feta cheese (optional). Do what? Those dense blocks of salty feta you can get are delish but what do you do with them? I love to gently grate it instead of get the crumbled version.
Easily the most complicated part of this dish is plating it. You have to very carefully plop a pile of your lentil bulger salad on the middle of your lettuce bed and drop some grated feta on top of that. For an added flounce, I like to add some green olives on the side, or maybe some flatbread toasted up in the oven for a few minutes. Voila! Yum for the tum, protein, and no overheated kitchen.
The other bonus of this is that it’s one of those fabulous dishes that actually gets better after sitting in the ‘fridge over night.
Yes, yes, yes… you might be poised to comment about the lack of tomatoes like in a traditional tabouleh salad. Keep your pants on and step away from the comment area. I get a rash from fresh tomatoes so don’t ever look for them in any of my recipes. If you want to add tomatoes to this, I’d suggest cutting back on the lemon juice a bit and using about half of a tomato, diced small. And don’t tell me about it.