Sunday, May 24, 2015

Warm Lentil & Goat Cheese Salad

I've had this recipe bookmarked for months. It's from Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials, a book I found in the breakroom at work and borrowed for enhancing my study of all things cheese. I'm a big fan of warm lentil salads with goat cheese since trying something like this in one of the 18 Reasons cooking classes I took a while back focusing on the beauty of budget friendly meals revolving around lentils.
I made a few tweaks to the original recipe.  I prepared the salad while the lentils were still warm whereas the original recipe instructs for the lentils to be cooled to room temperature. I find the warm lentils absorb the flavors of the dressing and allow the cheese to soften a bit and adding a little creaminess to the salad. The other adjustment I made was to chop and crumble the goat cheese then stir it into the warm salad. The original recipe places a one ounce wedge of cheese onto the side of the plated salad. That makes for a lovely presentation when using a striking looking cheese like Humboldt Fog and if serving this salad to guests.

I'm much more pedestrian and make a big bowl of this all for myself so I can enjoy it for a few days. Humboldt Fog is a lovely lightly aged goat's milk cheese from Cypress Grove in Humboldt County here in California. It has a vegetable ash layer running through the middle and beneath the white bloomy surface. It ripens from the surface where it's soft and oozy. The center is firm and crumbly. One of the things I love about good goat cheese is that it changes as it ages. There's more complexity to aged goat cheeses like Humboldt Fog that develop a bloomy (the white fuzzy) rind. The crumbly center is mild and tangy, the oozy edge introduces a bit of goaty personality and the bloomy rind is a little bitter. I love the combination of all of these textures. This salad would be just fine using a more commercial log style goat cheese if you're going the pedestrian route.

Warm Lentil and Goat Cheese Salad
adapted from Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials

For the lentils:
1 cup dried lentils
1 large garlic clove, peeled

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill plus whole sprigs for garnish
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch dice
1 large celery stalk cut into 1/8 inch dice
About 1 cup peeled, finely diced English cucumber
8 ounces Humboldt Fog goat cheese

To prepare the lentils: Fill a 2 quart sauce pan about half way with water. Add the lentils and garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the lentils until tender but not mushy. After 15 minutes taste to determine doneness and keep checking every 5 minutes until they reach the desired consistency. Drain well and toss into a large bowl.
Combine the dressing ingredients into a jam jar and shake until emulsified. Toss into the bowl of warm lentils.
For the leftovers: you can eat this cold from the fridge but I like to pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds to get the chill off.

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