I love a fancy meal as much as the next girl, but when there's a never-ending stream of home-related expenses, sometimes it's a good idea to give the bank account a break and make something cheap and filling.
Not that this should be an excuse to resort to store-brand macaroni and cheese with hot dogs and the occasional bowl of ramen noodles. If there's one thing I learned from my mama, it's that eating cheap doesn't have to mean eating badly, assuming you've got a little ingenuity and the right ingredients.
Enter the warm lentil salad. It's bistro at its best - cheap, easy, un-fussy food.
I really like this salad because it's delicious served warm and just as tasty at room temperature, and it actually tastes even better after it's spent a day or two in the fridge. This recipe makes a generous amount of lentils for the very reason - it should provide you with enough to easily feed four people at dinnertime and still have enough left over for a couple of lunches the next day. After all, if you're trying to save money, what's better than saving yourself the cost of a lunch on top of everything else?
If you're feeling particlarly thrifty (or perhaps a little vegan/vegetarian), go ahead and omit the sausage. I just happen to like the contrast of smoky salty sausage against the rich nuttiness of the lentils and the vinegary tang of the dressing.
And speaking of lentils... While Puy lentils can be hard to find and are slightly more expensive than the regular varieties, they're worth any trouble incurred in hunting them down. Try your local health food, bulk or gourmet food stores. If you can't get your hands on Puy lentils, go ahead and use the regular brown ones instead. I promise not to judge you.
Warm Lentil Salad
2 cups Puy lentils
2 bay leaves
¼ cup each olive oil and balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
½ tsp salt
2 shallots, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ lb smoked sausage (kielbasa is good)
Salad greens (preferably baby spinach or arugula)
In a large pot full of boiling water, cook the lentils with bay leaves for about 20-25 minutes or until just barely tender - you want them to still have a bit of a bite. Drain and set aside.
While the lentils are cooking, whisk together olive oil, balsamic, mustard, pepper and salt. Pour over the warm lentils, tossing to coat. Stir in shallot and parsley.
Slice the sausage into ¼" thick rounds. Using a large frying pan set over high heat, cook sausage slices until nicely browned on both sides. Stir into the lentil mixture.
To serve, arrange a couple of handfuls of salad greens onto each plate and top with a generous mound of still-warm lentils. Sprinkle with a little extra chopped parsley, if so desired, and serve immediately - preferably with a hunk of crusty bread to mop up the plate when you're done.
I recently discovered the joy of the Puy. You're right, they are worth the work to find.