Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lentil and feta salad

Serves 2

I long for the rough, earthlike properties that good lentils offer, and have always had a thing about autumnal flavours even at this time of the year. Lentils will sit happily with almost all game dishes, good firm fleshed sea fish and all members of the mushroom family, but I can think of fewer better partners than the sharpness of a good quality feta. If you find you've overdone the quantity of lentils here, then with what you have left loosened with a few splashes of stock and blend with a knob of butter for one of the most underrated soups known to man...

150g small dark green lentils, puy if you can get them
A couple of bay leaves and a big sprig of thyme
A stalk of celery and a carrot
2 medium red onions
Olive oil
400g feta cheese kept whole in 2 pieces
Good handful of fresh mint leaves
Warm pita bread to serve

Set the oven at 200c/gas mark 6. Rinse the lentils under running water, checking for little stones, and bring them to the boil in fresh water with the bay, celery and carrot, peel the vegetables but leave whole to fish out at the end. Turn down to a rolling simmer and cook for around 25-30 minutes until tender but still retaining a bite.

Peel the onions and slice them as thin as you possibly can. Break the slices into rings and put them into a mixing bowl with the leaves from the thyme sprigs and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Toss and season with plenty black pepper.

Put a piece of kitchen foil or greaseproof paper on a baking sheet or ovenproof dish and scatter half the seasoned onion rings on it. Lay the blocks of feta on top and scatter over the remaining onion.

Gather up the foil loosely over the top to seal then bake for 20-25 minutes, by which time the onions should have softened and the feta just beginning to crumble.

Drain the lentils, remove the flavouring vegetables, chop the mint leaves and mix them with two tablespoons of olive oil. Toss the drained lentils in with the oil and mint then grind over both black pepper and a little salt.

Divide them between two warm plates then lay a piece of feta and some of the onions on top. The hot, soft cheese will crumble a bit more for sure, but this is all the better. Serve with any hot soft bread, pita is perfect, to scoop up the combination as you devour...