The inspiration for this dinner began when I came across David Lebovitz's post about authentic French Puy lentils ("the caviar of lentils"), a wonderful pantry staple for quick sides and light meals. French green lentils (especially the certified "de Puy" variety which are grown under specific conditions) have long been my favorite lentil for their nutty flavor and the fact that they stay whole while cooking rather than dissolving into mush. What I learned reading David's post is that all French green lentils are not necessarily "de Puy," so it's worth seeking out the real deal.
The last time I cooked green lentils here they were simmered with sausages and tossed with a balsamic-based vinaigrette to form a warm salad. Lebovitz's basic recipe prepares them simply with some sauteed root vegetables and a simple vinaigrette, but he also suggests variations such as adding hazelnuts and hazelnut oil or chopped bits of good thick bacon. Taking his cue to toss them with goat cheese, I also added some leaves of baby spinach, which wilted pleasantly in the residual heat. The result was a light, economical dinner.
- 1 cup French green lentils (ideally "de Puy" variety)
- 1 bay leaf
- a few springs of fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dry
- 1 tablespoon red wine or sherry vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/8 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 small shallot, peeled and minced
- 2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
- 2 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
Rinse the lentils then add them to a small pot with the bay leave and thyme. Cover with water by a few inches and bring to a boil. Season with a pinch of salt, then turn down heat and simmer until tender but not overcooked, about 30 minutes.
In the meantime, combine the shallot, mustard, and vinegar in a bowl or small glass jar. Season with a little salt and pepper, then allow to sit for a few minutes to soften the shallot. Add the oil in a slow stream, whisking to create a vinaigrette (or cover the jar and shake until emulsified).
When the lentils are cooked, drain and return to the pot. Toss immediately with the vinaigrette. Add the baby spinach just before turning out into plates, so it only just begins to wilt. Top with the goat cheese and freshly ground black pepper and serve warm.