Sunday, October 31, 2010

Have I told you... much I love lentils? Yes, I think I have. It was back in January when I first posted about my favorite legume, declaring my ever lasting love for them and sharing with you my family's recipe for Greek lentil soup.

Ever since I was a kid, I had a thing for lentils. It was the only legume I enjoyed eating and that soft spot for those dark round jewels was all my mom needed to make her life easier. I profoundly objected to any attempt she made to feed me healthy food so the fact that I was eager to taste her lentil dishes brought her a sigh of relief.

The thing is though that, all these years my lentil repertoire was limited. It seems that I have been stuck in tradition, cooking lentils the way I have always been cooking them, not attempting to jazz them up a bit or pair them with something other than tomatoes, onions and garlic. Not that there's anything wrong with that but sometimes you just need a change. Especially if you're like us who eat lentils almost twice a month.

A while ago, I had bought a packet of Puy lentils planning to use them in some kind of special lentil dish I was hoping to find. They have been sitting in my kitchen cupboard for a couple of months when I finally realized I had to do something with them.

The previous day, I had bought some smoked trout that I've been dying to make a dish of, and thought I would pair the two. Some ideas came to mind but when I searched through my recipe archives and came across a lentil salad with smoked salmon, ricotta cheese and citrus fruits, I knew that was it. I swapped the salmon for the trout, tweaked and adjusted some of the ingredients and cooking processes, and it became the perfect salad.

Puy lentils or lentilles du Puy as they are called in French, are lentils from the volcanic region of Le Puy-en-Velay in south-central France and they are the only lentils in the world that are identified by area of cultivation. Puy lentils are small, green-black lentils with a blue marbling that have a very rich flavor and a superior quality. They are preferred for use in salads because they hold their shape when cooked, retaining their firmness, and don't disintegrate easily.

It was the first time I was using Puy lentils and I was pleasantly surprised by their 'al dente' texture and their nutty, earthy, peppery taste. The smoked trout with its pungent, aromatic flavor and rich texture paired excellently with the lentils, and the soft, creamy ricotta cheese rendered its sweetness to the salad.

The juicy, plump grapefruit wedges gave a welcomed sourness and the dressing, with its flavors of orange and lemon juice, olive oil and ginger, created an ideal concoction that balanced all the flavors in the salad in a unique way.

And it looks good, doesn't it? The Puy lentils resemble small pebbles from some exotic beach, the coral-hued trout and the bright colored grapefruits pop right at you and the white of the ricotta cheese creates a great contrast.

Puy lentils on the left, light brown lentils on the right

This salad can definitely be served at a special dinner, accompanied by a glass of good Chardonnay, or it can work as a light but fulfilling lunch or supper. Served either way, it surely makes a spectacular dish.

Warm Puy Lentil Salad with Smoked-Trout, Ricotta Cheese and Grapefruit
Adapted from Gastronomos magazine

This salad may have complex and intricate flavors but it's extremely easy to prepare.

If you can't find Puy lentils, you can use small, brown or green lentils. Even though they are different, the use of the common lentil surely doesn't mean that your dish will be any less flavorful or attractive.

As you boil the lentils, you will notice that the color of the water becomes almost black. At the end of the cooking process the lentils will have changed color. From green-black with blue marbling they become dark brown with some dark green markings.

In case you can't find ruby red or pink grapefruits, which are slightly sweeter than the yellow ones, use only yellow grapefruits.

Yield: 6 salad-servings

250 g French Puy lentils
150 ml orange juice, freshly squeezed
50 ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed
90 ml extra virgin olive oil
15 ml red wine vinegar
4 g (1 tsp) fresh ginger, grated
100 g onion, finely chopped
350 g smoked-trout fillets
250 g ricotta cheese
1 large yellow grapefruit, cut into wedges with pips, peel and white pith removed
1 large ruby red or pink grapefruit, cut into wedges with pips, peel and white pith removed
10 g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus a little extra for sprinkling on top of the salad
Freshly ground black pepper

Special equipment: colander

Before you cook the lentils, it is important that you pick them over. Sometimes you can find spoiled or blackened lentils, or small stones or debris among them that you have to discard. Just lay the lentils on a plate in small batches and pick them over carefully.

Pour 1 liter of water in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pan, put on the lid, and let water come to the boil over high heat. When it comes to the boil, add the Puy lentils along with ¼ tsp salt, lower heat to medium, put on the lid and let lentils cook for 15-20 minutes, until they soften but remain 'al dente', meaning firm but not hard. (Check the lentils after 15 minutes have passed, especially if you're using regular lentils since they cook quicker than Puy lentils).

In the meantime, prepare the dressing. In a large bowl, add the orange and lemon juice, olive oil, red-wine vinegar, grated ginger, finely chopped onion and a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix everything with a spoon and set aside.

Once lentils are ready, drain them in a colander, discarding the liquid, and rinse them well under cold running water. This will stop the cooking process. Drain excess water from the lentils and add them to the bowl that contains the dressing. Mix everything with a spoon and add the entire content of the bowl back to the pan. Heat the lentils over medium heat for 7-8 minutes without the lid and check the seasoning.
Drain the lentils over the bowl, reserving the liquid (which is the dressing) in the bowl, and return lentils back to the pan (the heat should be turned off) adding the parsley and mixing it with the lentils.

The way to cut the grapefruits is by using a sharp knife. First, cut off the peel, then the white pith all around the fruit, exposing the flesh, and finally, cut free the flesh of the fruit from the membranes that are in between the wedges.

Serve the salad by laying some spoonfuls of lentils on the bottom of each plate. Add on top of the lentils pieces of the smoked-trout fillets, some pink and yellow grapefruit wedges and some crumbled ricotta cheese. Pour a tablespoon of the dressing on top of the salad and sprinkle with some finely chopped parsley.
You can alternatively serve the salad in a big salad plate and let your guests help themselves.

The salad is eaten warm (the lentils must be warm, not the rest of the ingredients) or at room temperature.


  1. A beautiful dish - colorful and healthy!

  2. Oh yum oh yum oh yum, a few of my favorite things! So colorful and I'm sure the flavors are too!

  3. Truly lovely and an great combination of flavors! Our neighbors grapefruits are almost ripe - might be time to share this one in the neighborhood!

  4. I'm always astonished at the versatility of lentils. This is an unusual combination, but it must taste great - I love lentils with anything smokey. (ehrm... With anything actually)

  5. I love seeing dishes with unlikely pairings that I would never have considered...your salad is gorgeous, a what a medley of color-texture-flavor. And, ruby grapefruits are just now becoming available at the market!

  6. David — do share :)

    Caffettiera — it does taste great!

    Nancy — thank you

  7. What a great way to mix up a traditional lentil recipe. I love lentils, too. Something about them that can instantly make me feel at peace.

  8. I love smoked trout and yours looks especially good. And I love the colours of your salad.

  9. This is the second time this week I see lentils and fish paired and I think it makes such a perfect combo. I have never cooked nor tried these Puy lentils and they look so appealing in your salad. A winner this recipe.

  10. When I first looked at the picture I thought the grapefruit was tuna! This is such a unique combination of flavors ... well done!

  11. I love how creative you got with the salad. What a great way to use lentils. I could do with ideas as we are a very 'lentil' country! Love the colour and flavour play!

  12. I love lentils myself, but rarely put them in a salads, I will have to try this recipe next time...great combo with smoked trout and grapefruit!

  13. I am an amateur when it comes to cooking, so though you're recipes look divine, I am so daunted by the task of making this! Would it be a good idea/would it still taste good if I used freshly baked fish instead of the smoked fish?

    1. Yes, it will still taste good with fresh, baked fish.