Are you pedaling a bike through the fields of Provence? Strolling a village in Spain? Me neither. But this dish makes me feel like I’m getting a taste of that life.
French le Puy lentils stay nice and firm even after they’re cooked through, making them ideal for a salad that needs to sit around for a while. Fennel — every part of it — partners nicely with the legumes. The woody tops simmer along with the lentils, as do sweet carrots, savory celery, and aromatic onion and leeks. Thin slices of the fennel bulbs add a refreshing, cooling crunch to each bite of warm lentils, and the final sprinkling of fennel fronds delivers a summery aroma.
The lentils and vegetables get only more delicious after a turn in a sherry-Dijon-dill vinaigrette, a meeting of Spain and France bound with olive oil. Because the lentils are still warm when mixed with the dressing, they become infused with its bright tanginess. This salad tastes best when warm but is still great at room temperature or even cold. It keeps for days, so you can snack on a bite or two whenever you need a satiating snack. Or you can pack it all up to share with friends and family wherever you’re spending your staycation.
This vegan lentil fennel salad inspired by the Mediterranean can be made ahead for picnics, lunch or dinner.
VEGAN LENTIL AND FENNEL SALAD
1 hour, largely unattended. Serves 4 to 6.
2 fennel bulbs
1 pound small lentils, preferably le Puy or beluga, rinsed and drained
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 onion, finely diced
2 leeks, trimmed, halved lengthwise, washed well and cut into thin half-moons
2 carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sherry or balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chopped dill
Pick the fronds off the fennel and reserve for garnish. Thinly slice the stalks and reserve the bulbs.
Combine the lentils, celery, onion, leeks, carrots, sliced fennel and 1 tablespoon salt in a large saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are just tender, about 45 minutes. If the water absorbs fully before the lentils are cooked through, add more.
Drain the lentils if needed, then transfer to a large bowl and add the vinegar, oil, mustard and dill. Fold until evenly coated, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Let sit for at least 10 minutes.
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Halve the fennel bulbs, core and thinly slice. Scatter over the salad, along with the reserved fennel fronds. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve.
Make ahead: The lentil salad without the sliced fennel can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to five days. Top with the fennel right before serving.