They say you’re supposed to eat lentils on New Year’s Day for good luck all year. I’m a skeptic but why tempt fate?
Years ago, as a young cook at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse Café, I made a few thousand goat cheese and lentil salads. At least it seemed that way. Customers loved that salad and it was often on the menu.
Goat cheese was a novelty in the U.S. then, in the early 1980s. I’m pretty sure we used Bûcheron, the log-shaped French goat cheese. Laura Chenel was just getting started with her pioneering goat-cheese company and probably could not supply all the chèvre that Chez Panisse needed.
Today, fresh American goat cheese is as easy to find as peanut butter (and, ironically, Laura Chenel’s Chèvre is now French-owned). Even if you’re not a believer that lentils can shape your fate, this lovely salad will get your year off to a good start.
Goat Cheese and Lentil Salad
Adapted from Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook by Alice Waters (Random House). I usually replace the goat cheese with feta, and sometimes I add a diced avocado and a handful of chopped cilantro. In summer, add halved cherry tomatoes.
2 cups French green lentils (lentilles de Puy)
Kosher or sea salt
6 sprigs Italian parsley, plus ¼ cup minced parsley
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled and smacked, plus 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, in small dice
1 red onion, in small dice
1 celery rib, in small dice
Extra virgin olive oil
½ pound goat cheese or feta
½ cup thinly sliced chives
1/3 to ½ cup red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the lentils and put them in a pot with 1 teaspoon salt and just enough water to cover. Put the parsley sprigs, thyme sprigs and unpeeled garlic cloves in a cheesecloth square and tie into a bag. Add to the lentils and bring to a boil, then adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook 10 minutes, then add the carrot, red onion and celery. Add a little boiling water if needed to keep the lentils covered.
Simmer gently until the lentils are just tender, about 15 minutes longer, adding boiling water as needed. There should be very little unabsorbed liquid when the lentils are done.
Discard the cheesecloth bag and drain the lentils. Toss the lentils with 1/3 cup olive oil, then spread them on baking sheets to cool quickly to room temperature.
Crumble the goat cheese or feta into a large bowl. Add the cooled lentils, minced parsley, minced garlic and chives. Add ½ cup olive oil, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar and several grinds of black pepper. Toss well and taste for salt and vinegar. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving and taste again. You may need more vinegar, oil, salt or pepper.
New Classes, New Venue!
Join me for an evening of artisan cheese and fine wine when the World Cheese Tour resumes for the eighth year. Kitchen Collective, the stunning private club in Napa, will be our host for all of these tastings, each one devoted to a different theme. View the complete schedule.