Sometimes I find that I need a little inspiration. That sounds amusing to say, and even more amusing to write. Yet, every now and then I just need a little nudge. That is exactly what happened this weekend. Coming off a very intense week of cooking and catering I opened my lap top and just stared. Within minutes of posting a call out to my friends on Facebook I was back on track, with at least a month of post ideas.
I’ve been wanting to do something pretty and seasonal for December and with an idea brewing, half of my ingredients in the pantry and fridge, I set out to the Rye Farmers Market for the rest. Winter dishes don’t always have to be heavy hot and saucy, they can hearty without a lot of baggage. The key is to find ingredients that will fill you up, without dropping you down. Especially when you are making something for lunch. The last thing you need is to feel sleepy at 1:00 pm.
Lets talk ingredients: my three main components for this dish are French lentils, winter squash and kale. I love French lentils. They are delicious, cook quickly and hold their shape. There is a time and place for the flat brown ones, and that is a soup that gets pureed, or in a stew. Let us not forget that any kind of lentil packs a real protein punch, along with fiber and folate! The best place to buy them is the bulk bin at Whole Foods. If you get a prepackaged bag I guarantee they will be a little more expensive. In bulk they are $2.45 – $2.99 a pound. Yes, about $1.25 – $1.50 more than their regular flat cousin, but you don’t need a lot and a whole pound will go a long way.
The second main ingredient is winter squash. In my first version I used acorn squash slices. They look really beautiful in the final plate, but my husband and I concluded that it was messy to eat them.
So in my second version I used a kabocha squash. I specifically looked for a squash that would be easy to peel, and chop. I think the red kuri would work the same way. I steered clear of butternut, knowing it might make the overall dish too sweet. You know me, always looking for the right sweet/savory balance. The last part is kale. I specifically used the tight curly winterbor variety. When it gets heated at the end it will still hold its integrity.
For all the little extras, you can mix and match to your taste. I used a pear, simply because I had one, and it worked beautifully. I think a golden delicious apple would be just fine too. I also had roasted chestnuts in the fridge and highly recommend that addition, though not entirely necessary. I just love them and have them on hand all winter long. Recently I came across a great recipe on Epicurious by Dan Roman . I’ve made this recipe two or three times and love it. If you don’t have time you can easily purchase them already roasted and peeled. If you don’t have, or like, chestnuts hazelnuts will be a nice substitute. Last, but definitely not least, pomegranate arils. Another ingredient I have in Winter. They provide the tart little burst in your mouth that can’t be beat. Cleaning is a snap in a big bowl of water. The arils fall to the bottom and the white stuff floats to the top. Skim it off, drain and place in a sealed container for about a week.
I hear the collective sigh out there. “All those ingredients? Will this take forever, Maria?” Well, honestly, no. I started working on this recipe at 1:00 pm on Sunday afternoon and was eating the first bowl by 1:45 – and that was after stopping to take pictures and write notes. Granted, I had the chestnuts and arils already in the fridge, but that just means a little pre-planning on your part. The heavy lifting will be all within 30 minutes. I promise!
Give this one a try, I know you will love it! It’s perfect on it’s own, or with a bowl of soup.
Lentil, Squash and Kale Salad
¾ cup French lentils
2 lb winter squash, rinsed well, peeled and cute in 1” cubes (see note)
1 small red onion, cut in half and then 1” slices
Extra virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper
½ bunch winterbor kale, stems stripped and roughly chopped, about 4 packed cups
1 red Bartlett pear, core removed and cut in 1” pieces
½ cup roasted and peeled chestnuts, quartered with your hands
½ cup pomegranate arils
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a small pot bring 3 cups of water to boil. Add 1½ teaspoons of salt and the lentils. When the water comes back up to a boil lower the heat to a steady simmer and cook the lentils for about 20 minutes. You want them to be a little more than al dente, but not mushy. Turn off the heat and taste the lentils. If they need a little more seasoning add another teaspoon of salt and let it be absorbed. Drain and set aside in a big bowl..
3. While the lentils cook place the squash and onions on a rimmed sheet tray. Give it all a good drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until soft, about 20 minutes. Check after 15 minutes. When you are about 5 minutes away from being done add the kale to the tray and toss it all with a spatula. Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper over all and back in the oven for 5 minutes. The kale will wilt and partially crisp a little.
4. While the vegetables are cooking in the oven core and cut the pear. Try to make the pieces uniform if possible. Add the zest of the whole lemon and juice of ½ into the lentil bowl. Drizzle a little olive oil and mix thoroughly. Taste for seasoning.
5. Scrape the vegetables into the bowl and add the second half of the lemon juice. Mix in the chestnuts and arils. Taste for seasoning and serve warm or room temperature.
Cook’s note: You can use acorn squash for this dish, but it does tend to be messy trying to scoop out the cooked flesh. Kabocha squash on the other hand worked really well. Kabocha is a squat round dark green squash, easily found at the market and easy to peel. In a pinch butternut squash will work too.