Side dishes never seem to get the credit they deserve. Usually a casual afterthought or plate-filler, they’re the last item to be listed on restaurant menus and sometimes even left off altogether. Sides are the Jan Brady of the culinary world, always playing second fiddle to its cooler, more popular counterpart, the entrée.
Regardless, these dishes have always been a favorite of mine. At restaurants I often order two or three sides and a glass of wine and leave feeling completely satiated. Of course, not everybody has such an affinity for them as I do, but I think there’s a lot yet to be discovered in these small plates.
When I found this salad recipe on Smitten Kitchen, I immediately was drawn to it. Besides the fact that I love Mediterranean food, the recipe was originally created by professional chef April Bloomfield. This means that there’s a lot of attention to detail in this recipe. She suggests not just boiling the lentils in water; but adding a few sage leave and garlic cloves. She also doesn’t use pre-ground spices; she buys the seeds and grinds them herself.
This side dish has so much flavor and texture that it’s good enough to serve on it’s own. This salad also goes well with this lamb meatball recipe from the Jerusalem Cookbook.
Even the most carnivorous eaters can enjoy this vegetarian dish. It may not be an entrée, but it’s definitely worth a try.
Lentil Chickpea Salad with Feta and Tahini
1 cup dried green lentils,
2 large garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
2 fresh sage sprigs
2 tbs. olive oil
2 tsps. coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
½ large garlic clove
2 tbs. tahini paste
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
2 tbs. plus 2 tsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1-15 oz. can chickpeas, drained (preferably Goya)
½ small preserved lemon, rind only, finely diced
1 small red onion, sliced paper thin
1 handful of parsley or cilantro, roughly chopped
¼ cup feta
1 and ½ tabs. sesame seeds, toasted
To make the lentils, pour them into a pot along with two cups of water, the garlic, sage and the two tablespoons of olive oil. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer gently for about thirty minutes, give or take a few minutes depending on how tender you like them. Turn off the heat, let the lentils cool, then drain and pick out the garlic and sage.
To make the dressing, mix together the ground coriander and cumin and place one teaspoons of the mixture in a small bowl. Mash the garlic clove to a paste or use a garlic press and add to the bowl. Add in the tahini, three tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and two tablespoons of water. Mix all ingredients until combined. Season to your liking.
To assemble the salad, place the onion slices in a bowl, breaking them up as you go. Add salt, two teaspoons of lemon juice and two teaspoons of the olive oil. To easily juice the lemon, stick the prongs of a fork into the flesh of the lemon and move in a circular motion. Add in the cilantro, feta and one teaspoon of the coriander-cumin mixture and stir.
Combine the lentils, chickpeas and preserved lemon in a large bowl. Add in the tahini dressing and a few pinches of salt, if desired. Stir in onion, feta mixture and add in a few pinches of the remaining spice mixture and toasted sesame seeds to finish.