Tender new asparagus, fresh artichokes as big as your head, sweet, sun-kissed apricots, hyssop plants and two puppies so young their eyes weren’t even opened — I wanted everything at the Thursday farmer’s market in Chinon. I wanted the wild poppies and lavender of June and the golden light of the French countryside, too. None of it would have passed US customs nor fit in my carry-on. But I can bring a little French sunshine into my life, and so can you, with French puy lentils.
Like all lentils, puy lentils are small, quick-cooking and need no pre-soak. But they’re far from your basic brown lentils. Puy lentils are grown in the Loire and taste distinctly of place. Their nutty, mineral flavor comes from the rocky soil itself. They have a firm texture, not at all mushy. They’re deep green, speckly and stylish — they’re French, after all, and honey, vive la differénce.
France is one of the most sustainable countries, and lentils are one of the most sustainable crops to grow. Low water, low carbon, high yield, they actually put nutrients back into the soil. They put nutrients in us, too, being loaded with fiber and protein. Do lentils strike you as humble, cheri? Lentil salad with a zingy mustard vinaigrette is on more than a few Parisian menus. Sitting on a cafe terrace, eating lentils and wearing a little black dress, I felt like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and beyond lucky.
For fresh apricots, artichokes, asparagus and artisanal Cabernet Franc, I suggest running away to the Loire. But you can find other French delights much closer to home. Lentils du puy. are pantry-friendly and shelf-stable. Enjoy them any time for a taste of France.
French Lentil Salad
- 1-1/2 cups dried lentils
- 3 cups water or vegetable broth
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- a few whole peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1/3 c walnut or olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon agave or maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves from 1 good sprig
- sea salt and pepper to taste
- 2 carrots diced
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 2 scallions chopped fine
- 4 cups arugula or spinach leaves
- 1/3 cup walnuts toasted for garnish
- Pick over lentils for pebbles or grit. Rinse lentils and drain.
- Bring water or broth to boil in a large pot. Drop in whole garlic cloves, bay leaf and peppercorns and pour in lentils. Give a stir and allow water to come to a boil again. Then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until just tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
- Pour diced carrots and chopped celery into a large bowl and set aside.
- In a small bowl, add Dijon and pour in walnut or olive oil in a slow stream. Whisk until combined. Add sherry vinegar and agave or maple syrup and give one more whisk.
- Drain cooked lentils. While lentils are still hot, pour them over the carrots and celery. Pour vinaigrette over all. Stir gently to combine. Treat them to sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. Alternately, you may store lentils in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight or up to three days. Allow lentils to come to room temperature before serving. Place arugula or spinach on a platter and mound lentils on top or gently mix greens into lentils in a large bowl.
- Very nice garnished with chopped toasted walnuts and a gilding with of walnut or olive oil, a French indulgence, but hey, cheaper a a Chanel outfit.
- Serve with French baguette or whole grain bread.