If you have not had the good fortune to meet me and experience my fascinating wit and charm, I am Pierre LeChat, gourmand and expert on all that is food. Recently, I have been most graciously invited by the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen (SFH TK) to host this series of posts called SFH Food Talk. (See: Gourmet Ketchup, Julia’s Tartlets – Pierre’s Test Case, & French Cuisine & GRITS)
This particular adventure in French cuisine was inspired by an encounter with Jacques Pepin and Julia Child in the cookbook Cooking at Home. Blondie and Ol’ Fuzz Face had recently received the book as gift. I myself found it to be most interesting and recommended that the SFH TK test some of the recipes therein. Of course, the wisdom of my advice was immediately recognized and this last Wednesday the entire SFH TK staff moved into action. Their testing criteria would be in accord with my personally developed – Persnickety Pierre’s Criteria of Excellence:
1. Level of the challenge
2. Selection of good-quality ingredients
3. Use of cooking techniques
4. Development of superior taste and flavor
To most of you, it stands to reason that something that is soon-to-be-world-famous is not already world-famous. That, of course, would imply that the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen does not possess all the financial and test equipment resources that are available to already world-famous test kitchens. Consequently, the SFH TK staff often has to make on-the-spot substitutions and adjustment to recipes when a particular resource is lacking. For example, in this test, chives were not available to be added as garnish. So, without a moment’s hesitation, Blondie made the excellent decision to go immediately to SFH Herb Garden #1 and pick a bunch of fresh parsley. – – Problem solved!
All of that said above is merely to highlight that the grand purpose of the SFH TK is to test a recipe under the same conditions and with the same challenges that confront any amateur home chef. The only difference being, the SFH TK staff is scientific and methodical, recording each step of the recipe process and analyzing the results. The end goal is to have a failproof, go-to recipe that can be listed on your weekly menu with the highest confidence. – – It works for the SFH TK and it will work for you.
Test Results & Commentary
First, let me say Jacques Pepin has developed a marvelous salad recipe and Chef Blondie has penned on her printed copy “Excellent!”. But, let me go further. Although it is called a ‘salad’, this dish can stand alone as a meal or a main course. And so it did at Serendipity Farmhouse on two nights this past week. The point to be taken here is that this dish can survive refrigerator time and be used as tasty leftovers. – – The secret of the recipe is in the burst of flavor produced by the ensemble of ingredients, especially in the choice of shallots and herbs.
1. Level of the challenge: For a salad, this recipe presents a moderate challenge. Should you decide to presoak the lentils, that will increase your prep time. If you do not presoak, then you will have to monitor the cooking of the lentils to ensure they are fully cooked. – The choice is up to you.
2. Selection of good-quality ingredients: Quality of ingredients does make a difference in this recipe, but, even with lower quality ingredients, the flavor in this salad is superior. Jacques recommends lentilles du Puy, which have a greenish color. These were not readily available, and the SFH TK used less-preferred Walmart generic lentils. Currently, the SFH TK is awaiting the arrival of a package of lentilles du Puy for use in future testing.
3. Use of cooking techniques: The SFH TK staff encountered little difficulty in preparation of this recipe. The techniques used are simple and straightforward.
4. Development of superior taste and flavor: Here is the key to the success of this recipe. Jacques has assembled just the right ingredients to add zing to the taste and aroma of this dish. The unusual characteristic of this salad, however, is that the flavor does not diminish as you eat. The last bite is just as tasty and refreshing as the first.
5. Presentation: Be careful in presenting this dish. An SFH TK staff member, probably Ol’ Fuzz Face, selected the worst possible dish for showing off the charm of this delightful salad. Willow Pattern China tends to detract from the visual appeal. I strongly encourage Fuzzy to use a simple white plate or bowl when displaying similar dishes.
So, without further ado, here are pictures of the process keyed to the two primary instructions listed in the recipe. Enjoy!
Step 1 – Preparing the Lentils
Step 2 – Preparing the Dressing
Jacques' Lentil Salad
To cook the lentils:
- 1½ cups French green lentils rinsed and picked over
- 3½ cups water
- 3½ cups vegetable broth optional, see Note 1
- 1 cup chopped onion about 4 ounces
- 1 or 2 sprigs fresh thyme optional
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ tsp salt
- Pinch of ground cloves optional
For the dressing:
- 2 Tbs white-wine vinegar plus more to taste
- 4 Tbs virgin olive oil plus more to taste
- ½ tsp salt plus more to taste
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste
- 1 Tbs Dijon-style mustard or to taste (optional)
- Drops of Tabasco to taste (optional)
- 1 large ripe tomato cored and seeded, chopped into /2-inch pieces (about 1/4 cups)
- ⅓ cup finely chopped shallots scallions, or onion
- 2 tsp minced garlic about 3 cloves
- 2 Tbs chopped fresh chives for garnish, see Note 2
- Put the lentils, water, chopped onion, optional thyme, bay leaf, salt, and optional cloves in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 25 minutes or longer, until the lentils are cooked through but still hold their shape. (See Note 3.) Cool to lukewarm; at that point drain off any remaining liquid. Pour the lentils into a mixing bowl and discard the herbs.
- To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper (and mustard and Tabasco, if using). Stir in the chopped tomato, shallots (or scallions or onion), and garlic. Pour the dressing over the warm lentils and fold in gently, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle with chopped chives before serving. (See Note 2.)