Lentils, such an incredibly underappreciated food! At least, that’s what we said to ourselves as we wolfed down this humble lentil salad. It’s not witchcraft, just a smart combination of ingredients to highlight the natural flavor and texture of these nutritionally powerful little pulses.
The best lentils for lentil salad
Take a peek around the internet and you’ll see that the most common lentils for lentil salad are green lentils. Those will work in a pinch and you’re welcome to use them here, but if you want to make this dish as unexpectedly delicious as possible, black lentils are the name of the game.
Black lentils have firmer skins, so they stay the most intact for lentil salad while still getting tender on the inside. They also have a lovely, slightly earthy flavor that makes them a good match for arugula. Finally, the beautiful black color provides contrast against the various green ingredients in this dish.
Whatever you do, definitely don’t make your lentil salad with red lentils. Because red lentils are actually split in half and de-husked, they will basically turn into puree when cooked, which makes them better suited for baby food then salad, I’d say :).
Tricks to make your vegan lentil salad flavorful
Lentil salad recipes very commonly contain feta cheese. For this vegan lentil salad, we’re obviously avoiding that. If you’d love to whip up a batch of my vegan almond feta, it makes for a lovely addition this dish. However, you really won’t miss the feta here because kalamata olives provide a tangy flavor and a rich, fatty texture that hits the same notes that cheese does. I don’t buy super fancy olives or anything, just pre-pitted kalamata olives in a jar. I love me some cheap black olives, but you definitely want to go with kalamata here because of the particular flavor.
Even before adding olives or other flavorful salad mix-ins, whether you’re going in a culinary direction that is more Mediterranean, Greek, Lebanese, Italian, or something else entirely, you need to make sure your lentils are seasoned.
It’s worth your time to start with dried lentils and cook them yourself in vegetable broth. If you cook them in water, or use canned lentils, there won’t be any extra flavor infused into the lentils. They’re the backbone of this whole lentil salad, so seasoning is key. Use your favorite veggie broth or stock, throw in a bay leaf if you have one, and cook the lentils until just tender.
From there, in addition to the kalamata olives, I mix in an ample helping of fresh parsley, some peppery arugula, and a handful of raisins (what?! yes.) for sweetness. If you’re not keen on raisins, then for balance, replace them with something else sweet such as marinated sundried tomatoes, or roasted red peppers. I personally scatter a small sprinkle of raw red onions on my salad, but keep in mind your audience when deciding whether to go that route.
Let’s talk about the dressing…
You can get all kinds of fancy when dressing your lentil salad, and add different spices or herbs. Balsamic vinaigrette is particularly nice too, but this time around I went with a lemon-based dressing. Honestly, I did it because my love Brent is allergic to balsamic vinegar, but as it turns out, lemon adds brightness that really brings this whole shebang together.
The dressing is very simple, just lemon juice, olive oil, a couple of spices, and a pinch of mustard to help emulsify the other ingredients. You can whip up your lemon vinaigrette while the lentils are simmering. Recently I’ve been using bottled 100% lemon juice often for cooking, but since it’s served raw here and a significant ingredient of the recipe, I think it’s worth cutting up a fresh lemon.
Oh, and technically it’s not a vinaigrette, because it doesn’t contain any vinegar, but… I won’t tell anyone your secret ;).
I hope you enjoy this 30-minute, unexpectedly wonderful vegan lentil salad!
Secretly Amazing 30-Minute Lentil Salad
Naturally flavorful black lentils are tossed with fresh arugula, olives, and a simple lemon vinaigrette to make this low-effort, high-amazingness lentil salad.
For the lentil salad:
- 1 cup dried black lentils rinsed
- 3 and 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 3 cups baby arugula
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley (lightly packed)
- 1/3 cup sliced kalamata olives
- 1/3 cup raisins (see note)
For the lentils:
Rinse the lentils, picking out any stones or shriveled pieces. Add the lentils to a saucepan along with the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes or until tender but still holding their shape. Add more liquid if needed. After cooking, drain any excess liquid. If you have time to spare, transfer them to the fridge to cool completely.
For the lemon vinaigrette:
Add all of the ingredients to a jar, close the lid, and shake well to combine. Alternately, whisk together well in a bowl until emulsified. Add more salt to taste (I use 1/2 tsp total).
For assembling the lentil salad:
Add all of the ingredients except for the dressing to a bowl. Gently fold together to combine. Drizzle with about 1/2 the dressing, gently stir to combine, and taste for seasoning and dressing. Add more dressing to taste as desired. Best served cold if you have time to wait, but also delicious slightly warm or at room temperature.
RAISINS: Maybe raisins sound weird to you, but they're definitely amazing at adding a hit of sweetness to this dish. That said, if you can't stomach the thought of raisins here, I recommend substituting either (1) chopped marinated sundried tomatoes or (2) chopped roasted red peppers, both of which will provide some sweetness in raisins' place.
NUTRITION: Nutrition facts use 2/3 of the dressing.
Dressing adapted from Budget Bytes.
More lentil recipes from the blog: