Making fun, fresh, and sturdy salads like this is my favorite way to cook. The process is streamlined; everything goes into one bowl, no kitchen chaos, no fuss. Yet the formula for making these salads is completely flexible. Mix and match nuts, herbs, grains, beans, vegetables, spices, citrus, vinegars, and oils according to what you have on hand, what you're in the mood for, and what's in season. The possible combinations are infinite.
It's repeating this formula over the years, rather than following recipes, that has taught me the most about cooking by instinct. It's taught me to:
- Pay attention to complimenting and contrasting flavors and textures to achieve a satisfying dish that even veg-skeptics will love.
- Balance salty, sweet, and acidic notes to make a great dressing that I'd likely slurp by the spoonful if I could.
- Choose quality over quantity because each ingredient in a fresh dish really does stand out.
- Tune in to the subtle aesthetics of cooking. In particular, use beautiful and functional kitchen tools.
This last point is the other reason I love making big salads. It's an excuse to get out my large, deep clay, recycled glass, or IKEA bowl. There's something cathartic about tossing a big batch of warm grains, beans, or vegetables with dressing in an oversized bowl with a large serving spoon. It's a liberating way to bring a meal together. To toss freely, unrestrained, thoroughly. To be totally absorbed watching the ingredients mix with the dressing, anticipating how all the flavors will taste together, rather than being distracted by contents spilling out.
For me a large bowl also symbolizes abundance. By using it, I symbolically set an expectation that my salad rises to the occasion, that it fills the bowl. I take comfort in the fact that I'm making something that will last for several meals - that we'll be well nourished with little thought or effort required.
You might wonder how these points for cooking intuitively have to do with, well, anything. But in the most down-to-earth way, this is the Meal Prep 101 that we were never taught but that can greatly upgrade our experience around food. This is about putting just a little thought into our time in the kitchen and setting ourselves up for enjoying the process of cooking as much as we can.
And I hope you enjoy the process of making this salad.....and eating it. :-)
Asparagus Lentil Salad with Mint, Pistachio, and Tangy Lemon Dressing
Notes: The lemon vinaigrette in this salad is one that I like to make in a jar and keep in the fridge for quick use all week long. I use it all in one go for this lentil salad because I like the bright flavor (especially paired with the mint), and the lentils tend to soak up some of the liquid. I use black lentils because they hold their shape and have a peppery bite. Green or Puy lentils also work well.
- 1 1/2 cups ( 305 gr) black lentils (preferably soaked overnight)
- Tangy Lemony Dressing (recipe below)
- 2 small (shallot-size) red onions, finely diced
- 1 bunch (500 gr) asparagus
- 1/2 bunch (10 gr) fresh mint, chopped or torn
- Couple handfuls toasted, shelled pistachios, crushed (or roughly chopped)
- 1/2 tsp. salt + freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Rinse and drain lentils. Cook in a medium-large pot of boiling water for 9 minutes, or until almost cooked through. If lentils were not soaked, they will need 10-12 minutes to get to this point.
- In the meantime make dressing in the bottom of a large bowl, stir diced onions into dressing to marinate, and prep asparagus. Snap away woody ends and slice stalks on a diagonal. Drop asparagus into pot with lentils once lentils have cooked for 9 minutes. Cook lentils and asparagus 2-3 more minutes, just until asparagus are bright green and crisp tender, or cooked to your liking.
- Drain and immediately toss with dressing in the large bowl. Stir from the bottom up so everything is mixed thoroughly. Stir through mint, pistachios, and salt/pepper. Taste and adjust for salt, pepper, and acidity. Enjoy!
Tangy Lemon Dressing
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 2 heaped tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. runny honey
- 6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. salt + freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Add all ingredients to the bottom of a large bowl (or jar if you're making this for multiple uses). Mix well (or shake if using a jar).