Spiced Lentil and Chickpea Salad

Lentils and chickpeas are a match made in heaven, at least in my book. I was picturing this lentil and chickpea salad with a spicy dressing and pickled onions–a riff on a recipe I’d made last fall for Christopher’s birthday–and was inspired by the tahini dressing I found in [this version from Smitten Kitchen. I love this served beside a butter lettuce salad tossed with Go-To Vinaigrette and topped with crumbled goat cheese!



Red Lentil Dal with Caramelized Onions

Dal is an Indian cuisine comfort-food standby made with lentils, dried beans or peas. Tarka is a technique in which spices are sauteed in fat to magnify their flavor. And as we learned from spice guru Monica Bhide, you’ll enjoy  even more vivid flavor if you grind whole spices. Depending on your choice of cooking fat and stock, you can make this a vegan, dairy-free or gluten-free. Prepare the tarka and raita while the lentils simmer. Serve this dal with brown basmati rice, roasted cauliflower and our Fennel and Mint Raita.


Improvised Lentil Soup with Bacon & Juniper Berries

Several things conspired to make this lentil soup–an overabundance of bacon in the fridge, some leftover juniper berries and a yen for soup on the chilly evening. Lentils and pork are a classic combination, and after consulting Niki Segnit’s The Flavor Thesaurus, I found that juniper berries (which I don’t use often) also have an affinity with pork. Deglazing the pan with a splash of sherry deepens the flavor while the juniper berries lend a bright counterpoint.


Frisee Salad with Lentils and Duck Confit

It’s amazing what you can pull together when you’ve spent time creating tasty basics. Slow-cooked duck legs with fall-off-the-bone meat can live in the freezer until you’re ready for them, and lentils come together in a flash and can keep nearly all week. The result? One nourishing entree in the form of a fresh frisee salad.

frisee-salad-duck-confit-lentil-recipe2 Revelationary Duck Confit legs
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 heads frisée, torn
1/4 cup Mustard-Shallot Vinaigrette
2 cups All-Purpose French Lentils

Place duck legs in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat and crisp on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Remove to a cutting board, pull meat from bone and shred. Add onion to pan and sauté for 5 minutes, until golden brown.

In the meantime, toss the frisée with the vinaigrette and mound into 4 bowls. Scatter evenly with lentils, onions and duck, and serve.

Serves 4

Tastemakers: Easy Extras Add “Wow” to Your Food

People ask me why the food they cook at home doesn’t taste as special what they get in restaurants. That doesn’t mean their home-cooked fare isn’t wonderfully delicious–it is–but I know what they mean: Cooking in restaurants often has an engaging complexity and nuance that’s a step up from home cooking.

There are many reasons for this. Chefs–good ones, anyway–are willing to track down top-quality ingredients. They’re not shy about using flavor-enhancing salt, butter and cream. Even more importantly, they take the time to prepare little extras that add flavor and texture to many of their dishes. I worked at a restaurant where the mayonnaise was always made in-house, as was the dough for the flatbreads. We made pureed garlic confit,* which was used to add mellow garlicky flavor to everything from salad dressings to lentils.

Thomas Keller has a similar preparation in his inspiring book, Ad Hoc at Home (Artisan), as part of a long chapter “lifesavers.” These include house-made nut butters, flavored oils, chutneys, jams and pickles, and they provide the delicious backbone for some recipes and the finishing touches for others.

Making a batch of Carnitas de Lia this weekend inspired me to make my own piquant finishing touch. As I rubbed the spices onto the pork shoulder, it occurred to me that I needed some pickled red onions, which are a traditional accompaniment to provide a refreshing tart-sweet, crunchy counterpoint to the rich pork and guacamole. And because they’re so easy to make, I put together the following Quick-Pickled Red Onions in, oh, about 10 minutes. They were great with the carnitas, and I’ve also been enjoying them tucked into quesadillas and, this afternoon, on an egg salad sandwich.

We have lots of other extras that are easy to prepare and will make your cooking anything but basic:

  • Homemade Mayonnaise: It’s a far cry from the jarred stuff and will elevate even the basics like egg salad.
  • Spicy-Sweet Pickled Cucumbers: I made these all summer long and basically ate them with everything.
  • Fragrant Curry Paste: Add this to a stir-fry, whisk a little into plain yogurt for a dipping sauce, combine a bit with mayo for a zesty sandwich spread, or stir it into some cream and chopped tomatoes to make a speedy curry sauce.
  • All-Purpose Asian Dipping Sauce: I’d whisk in a little cornstarch to make this an ideal stir-fry sauce, too.
  • Asian Pesto: It’s delightful over rice noodles and it makes a great sandwich spread; also try it whisked into a salad dressing.
  • All-Purpose French Lentils: Lia calls these “the little black dress of dinner,” since you can serve them as a side, toss them in a salad or enjoy them as an entree.

Once you start playing around with different ways to use components like these, you’ll see that the recipes aren’t the end goal, but the start–or end–of something extra-special.

* That garlic confit is super-easy to make: Place peeled whole garlic cloves in a saucepan, add enough olive oil to cover, and simmer until very tender. Drain, reserving the oil (because it now has wonderful garlicky flavor, too!), and mash the cloves with a whisk or a fork. Store the oil and garlic separately and use them within a week.

All-Purpose French Lentils

This lentil recipe is the little black dress of dinner. Toss a cup or two with a frisee salad. Serve it as a side with duck confit, or roasted or grilled salmon Or top a bowl with some honey-ginger carrots to make them the star of the show. Leftovers make a fab lunch, gently warmed and sprinkled with a little crumbled goat cheese or feta.


Wherever You Are, There’s the Feast

by Cheryl Sternman Rule

Each November, everywhere you look, glossy magazines focus on Thanksgiving food: the turkey, the sides, the desserts. And that’s all wonderful, and important, but let me tell you something: the people who sit around the table, wherever that table may be, are the ones who make Thanksgiving memorable.

Fourteen years ago, my husband Colin and I served as Peace Corps volunteers in the East African nation of Eritrea. That November, come Thanksgiving, we hopped a bus and traveled from our little house in Decamhare to the town of Keren to gather at the home of two friends.  All around the country, our fellow volunteers did the same–some rode rickety busses for three hours, some for eight, some for even longer. Although we were stationed far apart, we made the effort to celebrate the holiday together.

I recently emailed these old Peace Corps friends to ask them what they recall about our Thanksgivings in Africa and was struck by how wildly their memories varied. It was fun to piece together their reminiscences, and to spur a collective sense of nostalgia for such a unique time in all of our lives.

Here’s what they shared: Sarah says she thought our country director imported a turkey from Germany, although Devra claims it was from South Africa. Jannett isn’t convinced there was a turkey at all. “Did we actually have meat?” she asked.  Kristen remembers her feelings about the spread without recalling specific foods. “I was beside myself at the variety and selection of food.  Never has a Thanksgiving feast been so incredibly appreciated.”

Julie’s memories go to the following Thanksgiving, when we gathered at Adam’s house in Nefasit. She remembers that one group headed up the mountain to Debre Bizen, an ancient monastery, while others hung back to prepare the meal. She recalls dancing outside “in front of the fire, which meant we had music–Adam was good for always having music.” For his part, Adam remembers “going around Nefasit trying to get as much charcoal as I could find, which ended up being quite a lot. I remember there was lots of cooking going on during the day, but I can’t remember what we were cooking.”

And therein lies the most important nugget, the gem, really, of Thanksgiving. For all our focus on the food, on making it perfect, or beautiful, or right, the food is not what people remember. People remember the feelings of fellowship, and if my friends are any indication, they remember those feelings with tremendous joy. This is true no matter where you were, and what you may, or may not, have eaten.

So this year, reach out to friends and family from Thanksgivings past. Reconnect, reminisce, and be grateful for their presence in your life.


Cheryl Sternman Rule is a food and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, including EatingWell and Body+Soul. She is the voice behind the food blog 5 Second Rule.

Lentil Soup with Roasted Pumpkin

By Cheryl Sternman Rule

Lentils are a staple food in Eritrea, and every time I prepare them I recall my years there.  Adding cubed roasted pumpkin lends this soup vibrant color and transforms it into an ideal Thanksgiving starter.


One 2-pound “pie” pumpkin (also called sugar pumpkins or sugar pie pumpkins)
2 cups brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
Two 14-ounce cans low sodium chicken broth (you may substitute chicken stock or vegetable stock)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a heavy knife, cut the pumpkin in half.  Use a serrated grapefruit spoon (or a regular spoon) to scrape out the seeds and all the strings.  Discard.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat it with nonstick spray. Lay the pumpkin halves cut side down and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until fork tender but not mushy.  Remove from oven and remove the peel in large swaths using tongs. Season both sides with sea salt (1/4 teaspoon total) and a grinding of black pepper. Turn pumpkin halves cut side up and let cool completely. Dice.

While the pumpkin roasts, start the soup. Combine the lentils, broth, and 4 cups of cold water in a soup pot.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer gently until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 25 minutes.

While the lentils summer, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots, onions and a pinch more slat and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes.  Add garlic and cumin and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds longer.

When lentils are ready, stir the carrot mixture and diced pumpkin into the soup pot.  Season with the lemon juice, and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 8