I am waiting for my heirloom native American O’odham keli baso melon to ripen. I sniff it every day. I have no way of knowing when it is going to be ripe, since I’ve never seen one before. I think it’s supposed to be yellow outside. The meat is exceptionally sweet and is white. It’s grown in the desert by the O’odham Indians of Arizona, and I got the seed from Native Seed/Search.
Which brings us to our healthy lunch meat recipe for the day — lentils. People mostly think of hot lentil soup as something for a winter lunch. I remember once, however, eating a cold lentil salad with a piece of grilled teriyaki salmon on top of it, with lots of nice fresh chervil at the Hay Adams Hotel in D.C.. Lentil salad is also absolutely unsurpassably delicious, seriously, one of the top — twenty, let’s say — eats when served with melon. Any kind, slightly cooler than room temp.
The secret of lentil salad, as I’m sure you know, is the secret of potato salad. Season it when warm. (Don’t put mayonnaise or hard-boiled eggs on hot potatoes, but do sprinkle it with chicken broth, or add your vinaigrette if that’s how you’re dressing the salad, and the onions. Add the egg-based stuff when it’s cool.
(You’d also do the same with green bean salad, or chard with pine nuts and white raisins, leaving out the vinegar or the lemon juice which would discolor it, until serving time.)
I have consulted the great connoisseuses of lentil salad — Elizabeth David (Summer Cooking), Claudia Roden (A Book of Middle Eastern Food) and Deborah Madison (Greens). Roden and Madison both advise a lemon vinaigrette for lentil salad, which is my preference too. Only Madison calls for lemon zest in the vinaigrette, and for this she deserves a point. Greens, her masterwork, suffers from a certain vegetarian/Buddhist rococo touch, as if loading on the ingredients made up for lack of meat. Madison’s lentil salad has all kinds of Stuff in it, including mint, roast peppers and feta cheese. None of those strike me as specially ‘licious. David’s awesome austere lentil salad is seasoned warm simply with onion and olive oil and garnished with hard-boiled eggs, a perfect taste and visual counterpoint to the lentils.
My favorite lentil salad, for serving with either grilled salmon or cool melon, has carrots in it, because their sweet smoothness and orange color add pleasure. And it’s dressed warm with something like Roden’s lemon vinaigrette. Since I’m on a lemon-zest-in-everything mission, I add the zest to:
Claudia Roden’s Lentil Salad
1/2 cup lentils, soaked overnight if necessary (check package directions)
3 T finely chopped parsley
7-8 T olive oil
Juice of 1 1/2-2 lemons
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed [she says they’re optional; I don’t think so]
1/2 t ground coriander or cumin [optional]
Use the large, dark brown lentils for this salad. Drain them after soaking, and boil them in a half-covered pan in fresh water until barely tender. This will take 3/4 to 1 1/2 hours. [Or get yourself a pressure cooker and liberate yourself from bean cooking times.] A pressure cooker [yeah, Claudia!] will reduce the cooking time to between 10 and 20 minutes, but care must be taken not to overcook the lentils. Add salt only toward the end of cooking time. Drain well.
Mix the dressing ingredients and pour over the lentils while still quite hot. Stir in parsley, and arrange in a serving dish.
But it would be good in the Elizabeth David version too. I bet she had hers with a few well-chosen bottles of rose.
I am also going to be making Armenian Lentil Soup, which uses fruit in a savory mixture, a combination that sends me. It has eggplant in it too. Seems to be a lot of them around lately.