As you might suspect from the last post, and the one before that, and several before that, we've been on dessert overload around here. Now, that is usually not an issue for me. I have a very high sugar tolerance. But with summer's heat pounding down on us with its full force lately, my body is craving salad more than butter these days.
As promised, I did pick up another quart of cherries at the farmer's market last Tuesday. This time, I allowed my family to do more eating straight from the cardboard tub. This was divine and could have more than satisfied our deprived, grocery-store-trained little taste buds. We had nearly made our way through the entire pile of them, however, when I began to get creative urges. From then on, they were off limits.
In addition to the cherries, I had purchased a few stalks of rhubarb. It was a few days after our trip to the market when I read in my Food Lover's Companion that rhubarb is highly perishable. I looked in the fridge. Yup. In place of my crisp stalks were six rubbery lengths that had more in common with a deflated bicycle tire than the celery they resembled earlier in the week. It was time to use those babies up, and preferably in something where they would be cooked to the point of mushiness so that no one could detect that they were slightly past their prime. That's how we wound up with a tangy but sweet buckwheat cherry-rhubarb crisp. Yummmm...
You see? Even when I intend to write about salad, the sweets have a way of barging in and hijacking the story. Okay, so it hasn't been a butter-free week in our household. But I did put the last of the cherries to work in an improvised salad that got good reviews around here. The salad was conceived in one of those a-ha moments, when, cleaning out a cabinet, I spied a container of greenish-black French lentils that hadn't seen daylight for years. When they hit the counter next to my bright red cherries, I began to imagine a salad that would at least be pretty if not also tasty. Following the color-composition method that had brought me to this revelation, I added some green, some brown, and some white, and this salad was born.
With the crisp fennel, tart cherries, and nutty lentils, it's a refreshing, comforting antidote to the sun's fury. And, if you've been hitting the desserts as enthusiastically as I have lately, it'll make you feel quite virtuous as well.
Lentil Salad with Cherries and Fennel
Serves two as a main course, four as a side dish
1/2 cup French lentils
1/2 cup orzo or other small pasta
Small head of fennel, very thinly sliced or shaved
12 to 15 pitted ripe cherries (dried would be good as well)
Scant 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tbsp fresh mint, sliced
2 tbsp lemon juice
1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp crumbled ricotta salata or feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium saucepan, cover the lentils with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until lentils are tender but not falling apart, adding water as needed. Remove the lentils to a big bowl, add water to fill the pot halfway or so, and bring to a boil once again. When it's boiling, salt the water and add the pasta, cooking for 8-10 minutes, until al dente. Drain the pasta, and let it cool a little bit before adding to your bowl. Loosely chop the cherries, and set them on a paper towel to dry. If they are very juicy, give them a quick rinse so that they do not turn your pasta pink. Put all of the remaining ingredients into your bowl, and toss well.
P.S. Click over to Foodie Tots to find more inspiration for cooking from the farmer's market!