The inspiration for this dish came from a very unusual place: the menu on the wall in Meryl Streep's café in It's Complicated. I always find myself salivating and longing for long picnics on the Pont des Arts whenever I see a Nancy Meyers movie, and this one full of cloudy chocolate croissant reveries was no exception. So when I saw "lentil and shrimp salad" scrawled out across the screen, I thought, "That would make a good column!"
I don't know how Meryl Streep makes her lentil and shrimp salad, but I make mine with Puy lentils, Dijon vinaigrette, and jumbo shrimp roasted with lemon zest and olive oil in a Riviera-hot oven, ticker-taped with bits of sweet grape tomato peeking. I love the French use of lentils—filling as mashed potatoes but far more virtuous, and while I did recently hear my favorite celebrity chef insist that you could substitute any lentil for the dainty, green du Puy, I will have to ask you not to. Brown lentils that turn to mush were created for soup, and green lentils that stay pert after a hard boil were made for salads. Puy lentils are more and more readily available, but truly any gourmet or health food store should carry them, and like the road less traveled, they make all the difference.
I love this salad for being simultaneously extravagant and rustic, dietetic and hearty, earthy and light. The age-old pairing of lentils with seafood gets a happy update, and the perk is the salad can be served hot, warm, cold, or indifferent. A salad for all seasons!
- Ingredients for the Lentils:
- 1 tablespoon light olive oil
- 2 shallots, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 1/2 small carrot, finely diced
- 1 small celery stalk, finely diced
- 1 1/2 cups French lentils du Puy
- 1 bay leaf
- A handful of parsley stems (optional)
- 3 cups water
- Ingredients for the Shrimp:
- 12 jumbo shrimp
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Zest of 1/2 lemon
- Ingredients for the Salad:
- 2 tablespoon walnut oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
Sauté the shallots, garlic, carrot, and celery in the olive oil in a sauce pot over medium heat until just fragrant and translucent—3 to 4 minutes, because they are chopped so finely.
Add the lentils, bay leaf, parsley stems, and water. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, then cover, and simmer on low heat for 25 minutes. Then remove the lid, and boil for 5 minutes. Drain the lentils.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 400°F.
Toss the shrimp with salt, pepper, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and the lemon zest. Spread onto a baking sheet, and roast for 10 minutes.
While the shrimp roast, make the dressing by whisking together the walnut oil, white wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard with salt and pepper.
Toss the warm lentils gently with the vinaigrette and the tomatoes. Perch the shrimp on top.