Lentils – despite their slightly homespun look and reputation – could easily be the most under-rated product in the broader food world. They are however a critical staple in Middle Eastern and Indian pantry cupboards, because they are delicious, extremely nutritious and, if treated with the same respect as meat proteins, easily provide the same satisfaction. The following recipe is for a ‘salad’ made from lentils and very finely shredded carrots and radishes, all bound together with a deeply satisfying, rich dressing that oozes umami and deliciousness. The salad is wrapped up in papaya which provides a lovely sweet counterpoint without making one feel like you’re having a fruit salad. The carrots provide some crunch and the radishes a little exotic pepperiness, but you could also add finely diced green pepper or celery if you should wish.
In this recipe, smoked trout is piled on top of the salad for a little luxury, but you could easily leave it out for a fully vegetarian starter or light main meal. Smoked salmon or peppered mackerel would work equally well. The dressing calls for a large volume of deeply toasted cumin. It is best to use whole cumin seeds, toast them well and then grind them in a spice grinder to a fine powder. The cumin contributes a warm nuttiness to the lentils (no wonder so many lentil recipes calls for this wonder spice). It is important to add the dressing to the warm lentils so they can soak up all of the rich, nutty flavour of the spices. This recipe explains how to plate the salad for individual portions, but it could also very easily be served as a large platter for people to help themselves.
Ingredients for four individual plates of salad, or one medium composed salad:
For the dressing:
7,5 ml (½ tablespoon) whole cumin, dry toasted until dark, cooled and then ground to a fine powder
7, 5 ml (½ tablespoon) white miso
80 ml fresh lemon juice
140 ml good quality olive oil
1 garlic clove, cut into small pieces
5 ml (1 teaspoon) salt
2,5 ml (½ teaspoon) freshly ground black pepper
7,5 ml (½ tablespoon) sugar
7,5 ml (½ tablespoon) prepared mustard
180 g brown or black whole lentils
60 g split yellow/orange lentils
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into very fine julienne
6 radishes, cut into very fine rounds
100 to 150 g smoked trout
1 medium papaya, peeled and seeds removed, the flesh sliced in very thin slices
Selection of herbs and edible flowers for garnish
First make the dressing. Add all the ingredients to a jug liquidizer or tall jug if using a stick blender. Blend together until a smooth emulsified dressing is obtained.
Boil the brown or black lentils in plenty of water for about half an hour. The exact cooking time would depend on the quality of the lentils. The lentils should not be undercooked, but they should also not burst or fall apart. Test them regularly towards the end of the cooking time. If you do not feel comfortable to add the split lentils towards the end of the cooking time of the brown lentils, cook them separately – they cook very quickly, so one should be vigilant. But if you think your brown lentils are about 6 or 7 minutes away from being cooked, add the split lentils in together with the other half cooked lentils. At the end they should all be cooked at the same time. The split lentils provide a little bit of body to the salad and bind the other ingredients together. Drain the lentils, tip them into a bowl, immediately add the dressing and mix together well. You could reserve a little of the dressing to serve later on. Cool well.
When you are ready to serve, mix the carrots and radishes into the lentils. Reserve a few slices of radish for garnish. Place a ring mould on a plate and wrap the papaya slices around the outside, overlapping each slice with the next. Add one quarter of the salad to the ring mould and press down slightly. Remove the ring mould and repeat the same procedure on the other plates. Garnish with smoked trout, herbs and flowers and slices of radish. Grind a bit of fresh pepper over along with a sprinkling of flaked sea salt.