There are many traditions around the world that involve serving select foods on New Year's eve and January 1st to bring good luck. There are black-eyed peas, long noodles, greens, pomegranates, herring, cornbread, pork, and my personal favorite - lentils. Lentils, shaped like coins, swell into larger amounts in liquid - symbols of future wealth and good fortune. Some are even green, like currency. Also, lentils are an abundant source of protein for many people throughout the world.
Low in calories, rich in iron, folate, and fiber, as well as, an excellent source of protein, lentils are the perfect legume to eat in salads, soups, stews, and as a substitute for red meat. Lentils can be a bit tricky to cook and can turn out mushy so here are a few tips:
In addition to rinsing and soaking prior to cooking, brine the lentils to soften the lentil skins and cook the interiors evenly.
Mild salting during cooking guarantees a creamy, pillowy texture.
Cook the lentils in a slow oven so that the skins stay in tact.
Here is one of my favorite lentil recipes. It serves as a nice side dish, and makes a lot if feeding a crowd. You can use flattish green lentils, or the round green lentils of Puy France. I hope this recipe brings you lots of good luck in the coming year!
Lentil Salad with Red Peppers, Red Onions, Feta, and Mint
1 cup green lentils
4 cups warm water, plus 4 more cups in reserve
1 small red onion, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 TBSP fresh mint, chopped
1 teaspoons Kosher salt (divided)
2 bay leaves
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/4 teaspoon oregano (Mexican or Mediterranean variety recommended)
6 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
6 TBSP red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Rinse the lentils several times and place in a large bowl. Cover with the warm water and 1 teaspoon Kosher salt. Stir with your hands to combine the brine. Let soak for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 325° and adjust the rack so a large saucepan/Dutch oven will fit on it.
Drain the lentils and place them in a large saucepan/Dutch oven on the stove with the bay leaves, garlic, oregano, and 1 teaspoon Kosher salt. Cover with the 4 cups reserved water and bring to a gentle boil.
Place in the oven, covered, and cook until the lentils are as tender as desired (about 40 minutes to an hour).
While the lentils are cooking, make a vinaigrette: in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper. Set aside.
When the lentils are done cooking, drain the water, and discard the bay leaves. Allow the mixture to cool down.
When cool, toss the mixture with the vinaigrette and the onions, red pepper, and if desired, more salt and pepper to taste.
When ready to serve, toss the salad with the mint and crumbled feta.
The salad tastes best at room temperature, but may be prepared up to a day in advance (without the mint and crumbled feta) and refrigerated until ready to serve. Add the mint and crumbled feta then.