Vegetarian: Beet and Lentil Salad with Feta and Fried Eggs

This main dish salad hits all the points a vegetarian looks for: earthy from lentils, sweet from beets and a touch of caramelized fennel, creamy and tangy from feta, rich and filling from a topping of fried eggs. [Photograph: Lauren Rothman]

Anyone who meets my family will immediately come to understand my food obsessions: I come from a long line of passionate eaters, the type of folks who start to plan dinner well before lunch has wrapped up. Growing up, my mom was normally the chef—Dad manned the grill in the summertime, and occasionally pitched in throughout the year to make his special pasta with sautéed shrimp—but everyone in the family, including my older brother, could hold their own when it came to talking about food.

As a food writer, it helps me immeasurably to be surrounded by these people (and these discussions). You see, it's not always easy to come up with new, original, exciting and tasty vegetarian recipes for you all: even though I like to believe I'm a creative cook, I slip into the same ruts like everyone else, and sometimes, when this column is due, I worry about finding a new idea to share.

Such was the case a few days ago, when I was sitting at my desk thinking about what to cook this week, and finding the well of ideas to be unusually dry. Just at that moment, an image flashed onto my phone: a sort of blurry iPhone photo sent by my mom, with the caption, "Made this salad last night—tiny lentils, beets, feta cheese and fried eggs!! My own creation!! Yummy!!!" (Rest assured, my mother is not a 19-year-old girl, but she is fond of the exclamation point.)

My mom's cooking has always inspired my own, but this dish sounded particularly in line with my tastes, so I decided to tackle it. After getting basic instructions from my mom, I made a few changes to the dish, adding a flavor-enhancing sauté of sweet onions, fennel, and the reserved beet greens; roasting the beets where my mom boiled them; and adding a touch of sweetness to the salad dressing in the form of honey.

I'm actually hanging out with my parents on vacation in Pennsylvania, and I served the finished dish to my mom for lunch. I took her empty plate as a sign of her approval.