Lentil Salad with Dried Cherries, Feta and an Herb Marinated Lamb Fillet
This chapter is a free excerpt from What's For Lunch, Honey?.
When the family gets together it’s usually a time for lots of laughter, storytelling and plenty of hugging. My parents have never eschewed from showing their emotions openly. They are gregarious, warm and loving people and it takes only a few moments with them before friends are enamored with them and captivated by their stories. They do have plenty of those—especially my father, who wraps tragedy and comedy in his storytelling so easily. I can hear the same tales over and over again and still they are as fascinating as they were when I heard them the first time.
The stories themselves serve not only as reminders of my past, but can give me wonderful new insights in my present. I see many of these stories come alive in my cooking: one such meal is inspired by by the flavors of Lebanon and the stories my parents tell me about the beautiful country. It was the summer of 1974, the year I turned two and a year before civil war rocked Lebanon. My father was assigned to an opening of a luxury hotel in Beirut and had been there for several months already. My mother and I were visiting, though of course my own memory fails to bring up pictures and images of this period in my life, but my imagination paints elicit pictures drawn by the words of my parents’ stories.
Lebanon must have been a beautiful country before the civil war tore it apart. My mum was especially charmed by Beirut, nestled between green hills and the gorgeous azure colored Mediterranean Sea. My dad worked most of the day but the early evenings were reserved for us. They would love to roam the crowded bazaars, pausing at the little shops to sample some sweet baklava, nuts or cookies and sip on steaming glasses of spiced tea. The shops were a colorful chaos, lined with rolls of material, carpets, spices, tea and pretty much everything the heart desired.
This is a dish that will truly awaken your senses, as that bazaar did so many years ago, making you experience them like never before. I adore warm salads like this with a bold fusion of sweet, tart and nutty flavors. The succulent and tender lamb marinated in herbs and garlic adds another exquisite level, making this a perfect dish to enjoy at any meal. My secret ingredient is in the vinaigrette—a nutty and outrageously delicious pumpkin seed oil.
What I love about the entire dish is that it is versatile: it can be made using several varieties of lentils, and the lamb can easily be substituted with chicken if that is what you prefer. The dried cherries balance the nuttiness of the lentils with their sweetness. I also added bacon to enhance the powerful flavors—because, let’s be honest, bacon makes almost everything taste better. It’s the pumpkin seed oil, however, that I adore. The intense nutty taste paired with honey, olive oil and a raspberry vinegar makes each forkful a memorable experience.
Ingredients:For lentil salad
- 250g Puy lentils, cooked according to packet instructions and kept warm
- 200g feta cheese, crumbled
- 60g dried cherries
- 1 small potato, steamed and cubed
- 100g bacon cubes, fried
- 150g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 100g radish, quartered
- 3-4 spring onions, sliced
- Handful rucola leaves
- Glug of olive oil
- Glug of raspberry vinegar
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Drizzle of pumpkin seed oil
- Drizzle of honey
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 2 lamb fillets
- 100g olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- Mix of herbs (rosemary, thyme, marjoram)
- Fleur de sel
- Fresh cracked black pepper
- Marinate the lamb fillets in a marinade made with the 100g olive oil, garlic clove and herbs. Rub in fillets with mixture well and set aside for a few hours.
- Season the lamb fillets with fleur de sel and some cracked pepper, then heat a non-stick pan until very hot and smoking. Fry the fillets on all sides until nicely browned, then reduce the heat and cook for a further 4-6 minutes or until they have reached the desired degree of cooking. Remove fillets from pan and wrap in aluminum foil. Allow to rest for a few minutes before slicing.
- In the meantime prepare the salad by tossing together the cooked lentils, dried cherries, steamed potato cubes, bacon, cherry tomatoes, radishes and spring onions gently with a wooden spoon.
- Make the vinaigrette by whisking all the ingredients until the mixture is smooth, homogenous and thick. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and cracked pepper to taste.
- Pour the vinaigrette over the lentil mixture. Stir gently so that the lentils do not get squishy. Add the rucola leaves, toss quickly and sprinkle with feta cheese.
- Slice the lamb fillets and serve with the warm lentil salad.
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