Mar 232014
 

Lentil, Beet & Balsamic Onion Salad

Here’s a pairing to kick-off what is surely the most welcome Spring in recent memory. This lentil salad is substantial and nutritious but still light and energizing. And paired with a bright Sauvignon Blanc, is a lovely way to usher in the season.

Both the roasted beets and the balsamic onions can be prepped a day ahead, if you like. And you will have leftover balsamic onions, but they’re a great thing to keep on hand, stashed in the fridge. Add a dollop to anything from pasta to green salads, roasted salmon, brown rice bowls, sandwiches, polenta, crostini, scrambled eggs or tofu, flatbread pizza, or even your favorite chip ‘n dip combo.

The crunch of toasted almonds is an indispensable ingredient to me. And on those days when I crave something creamy, a sprinkling of crumbled goat cheese or feta, or diced avocado, does the trick nicely here.

This salad can be a meal in itself, and it tends to be for me. Or serve smaller portions alongside a green salad and/or a scoop of brown rice, millet, etc.

The last time I made this, I had spotted some adorably small red beets, barely larger than a radish. The skins were so thin, a good scrubbing was all they needed — no peeling required. But of course, larger beets would be fine. In that case, roast them whole, drizzled with oil and balsamic and encased in foil. When they’re done and cool enough to handle, slip off the skins and then dice. The roasting will take considerably longer with whole, larger beets — plan on at least an hour and a half.

I like this salad best when still slightly warm or at room temperature, but you certainly could serve it chilled.

Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc wakes up the earthy lentils and root vegetables, and it isn’t overwhelmed by the tamari or vinegars. Plus, is just says “Spring” to me! So here are a few I’ve really enjoyed lately:

Wente 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Livermore Valley Louis Mel ($15). Excellent value here, with a burst of citrus, from concentrated lemon to juicy tangerine and sweet lime, accented with smooth melon and dried herbs. Refreshing finish. Find it!

Veramonte 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley Ritual ($19). First vintage of this bottling, and it’s a knockout. Fresh and minerally, with lime, lime zest, white peach, and green apple. Refreshing, long finish. Find it!

Amici 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($25). Silky, bright and full of flavor — crisp apple, passion fruit, lemon, cream, lemon zest. Find it!

Mayacamas 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Mount Veeder ($25). Bright, tart citrus, gooseberry, peach skin. Mineral notes on the dry finish. Intense, needs food. Find it!

Grgich Hills 2012 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley Dry ($30). Gorgeous! Mouthwatering lime supports pretty melon, crisp apple and dry, mineral notes. Sleek finish. Loved it. Find it!

Recipe: Lentil, Beet & Balsamic Onion Salad

9 ounces dried French green (Le Puy) lentils
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons organic, wheat-free tamari (or can substitute good quality soy sauce)
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
12 small red beets (see note above)
2 white onions, halved and thinly sliced
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 400F. Remove stalks from beets and scrub well. Cut into quarters and place on a large piece of foil. Drizzle some balsamic vinegar and olive oil over the beets — a couple of tablespoons in total. Cover tightly with the foil, making a package by crimping the edges, and roast for 45-60 minutes, until beets are tender. Set aside.

While beets are cooking, make balsamic onions. Heat about 1/4 cup olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onions to oil. Cover, reduce heat and cook over medium-low for about 30 minutes. Check and stir occasionally to prevent sticking/burning. Once the onions are very soft, add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, bring to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vinegar has reduced and thickened a bit. Set aside.

Pick over the lentils, checking for any small stones, then rinse and place in a medium saucepan with the diced yellow onion and bay leaf. Cover with water by an inch or so; bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are tender but not mushy.

While lentils are cooking, toast a generous handful of slivered almonds in a dry skillet over low heat.

Drain off the water and tip lentils into a large serving bowl. Season with tamari, Sherry vinegar and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Stir in 1/3 cup of the onions. (Or more, if you like!) Gently toss in beets, top with the toasted almonds. Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side.

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