I would, and I DID.
It’s still hotter than Hades, I still have a gaping wound in my palm, AND the new Batman movie opens tonight at midnight. All of those factors combine to force a quick and easy, light-on-heat-and-cooking smackdown. Ipso facto, salad.
When I want salad, I turn to Susan Spicer’s Crescent City Cooking. God help me, that woman knows how to compose a fucking salad. On the menu tonight: marinated lentil salad with fresh tomatoes and goat cheese.
Clove onion: Key to the worst apple cider or best lentil salad?
And yes, I am going to see Batman at midnight. I’m not dressing up or anything, but if I WERE I would NOT BE ASHAMED. I had a friend in college who believed that whatever romantic committed relationship one ended up in, one could always maintain a list of the 5 incredible people with whom it would be appropriate to sleep if they ever showed up on one’s doorstop in their underpants. I don’t put a lot of credence in this, and anyway, my list only has two people: Shakira and Christian Bale. (And by “sleep with” I mean drink a nice bottle of wine and then spoon.)
So it’s a good thing this salad only takes about half an hour, leaving me ample time to get the pictures up, write this post and prepare myself for teh hotness.
I started some red lentils in a big pot of cold water with a bay leaf and a quarter of a yellow onion studded with cloves. I had a little too much fun making the clove onion, and plan to do it whenever I make lentils from now on.
Red onion: Fun vegetable, or the most fun vegetable?
While the lentils simmered, I got the rest of the ingredients together. I picked about a pint of sun-warmed cherry tomatoes and some basil from the plants in the backyard, chopped some red onion and ground cumin seeds.
Let me tell you, chopping this onion? No joke. I can’t really put a lot of force on my right hand, and if I tried to dice left-handed I’d perform an impromptu appendectomy on myself. I had to rely 95% on the sharpness of the knife and gravity to do the work. Either my knife needs a once-over, or gravity just isn’t what it used to be.
I love the smell of cherry tomatoes in the morning. Or, you know, the early evening.
Can I wax for a minute about the smell of tomato plants? I LOVE the smell of growing tomatoes. Smell memory is really strong, and tomatoes – which, ironically, I hated as a child – take me back to being 8 years old, hanging out in the humid, steamy kitchen while my mom blanched bushels of tomatoes, ran them through a food mill and packed them into mason jars with olive oil and basil so we’d have a base for fresh tomato sauce all year long. Of course, growing tomatoes also makes me think of the year my dad tried to clean the patio pavers with an acid-based cleanser, and the fumes settled over the tomato patch, killing each and every plant. Good times.
When the lentils were done I drained and rinsed them with cool water and then immediately tossed them with salt, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, the cumin, quartered cherry tomatoes, red onion, basil and some minced garlic.
Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.
I let the lentils sit and marinate while I sliced a baguette to make some crostini. I drizzled them with olive oil, shoved them under the broiler for a few minutes and rubbed the finished product with raw garlic cloves.
After 10 minutes or so I sampled the lentils and added a little more salt and olive oil. I used a nice Spanish finishing oil with a good balance of fruitiness and pepper. It’s an up-and-coming little producer you may have heard of: Badia. Available in the latin foods section of all your finer Pathmarks and Stop n’ Shops. (Seriously, Badia makes a really nice cold-pressed olive oil, and that shit is a bargain and a half.)
Little square plate: Precious, or the most fucking precious?
I spooned the finished salad onto some plates, crumbled on some herb-and-garlic goat cheese and added one last drizzle of olive oil. And now I have to say it again: Susan Spicer knows her way around a goddamn salad. This is fast, easy, cheap and frigging delicious, and it was immediately elevated from mere Smackdown experiment to regular summer rotation meal.
This salad is one series after another of fantastic combinations of texture and flavor: earthy lentils and cumin, sweetly acidic tomatoes and balsamic, pungent onions, herbal basil and slightly funky cheese. Each bite is a series of toothsome lentil, juicy pops of tomato, crunchy onion and smooth, creamy cheese. They combine to make a salad that’s both hearty and refreshing, perfect for the end of a long summer day. The character of the lentils still comes through, and each flavor makes you like the others just a little more than you did before.
Bless Susan Spicer’s little salad making heart, this is good. It might even get her on The List.
Final Score: Us 1, Food 0