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My appetite for interesting grain-based salads is almost endless and I’m always excited when I come across a new idea for a tasty combination, like this lentil, grain and herb salad with orange.
I’m open to all sorts of flavours in a grainy salad, but I do have a particular set of criteria: they have to be interchangeable as both side dish and light main, I have to be able to do at least some of the preparation ahead of time and, if possible, I like them to be meat-free. The meat-free thing isn’t a deal breaker, but I love putting a beautiful big salad on the table at a party and having vegetarian eaters feel like they’re being looked after just as well as the carnivores.
This lentil, grain and herb salad ticks every box. Fresh orange segments and loads of herbs make it colourful, bright and zingy, and with a hefty cracked wheat and lentil base and the addition of toasted nuts, it’s definitely substantial enough to pass for dinner on its own. Where it really shines, though, is as part of a larger buffet-style spread with other vegetables and meat dishes.
This lentil and grain salad is welcome on my table at any time of year but, like the Christmas rice salad recipe I shared around this time last year, it’s quite a special side dish to include on a festive menu.
You can prepare the main elements of this salad in advance, steaming and then refrigerating the lentils and cracked wheat until you’re ready to dress and serve.
The ingredient list might seem quite long but apart from a little time cooking the lentils and wheat, it’s really a very straightforward assembly job. I prepare everything as much ahead as I can, rinsing capers, toasting nuts and chopping herbs earlier in the day so when it comes time to make, I just throw everything into the bowl and mix.
The finished salad is best eaten an hour or two after you’ve dressed it, when the flavours have melded together but everything is still fresh and bright. For me, that makes it a brilliant take-along dish to a shared meal. Prep ahead, put the salad together just before you leave the house and it’ll be perfect to eat when you arrive at your destination. I’m very happy to eat any leftovers for a couple of days, but the the herbs and seasoning do lose some of their ‘oomph’.
Grains which make a good salad base
You can use all sorts of different grains as a salad base. They add chew, interesting texture and a heft you can’t usually get from vegetables alone. I like short grained brown rice for its slightly nutty flavour, quinoa (not technically a grain, but still firmly in this category for me) thanks to its poppy, crunchy bite and fine or pearl couscous for something a little softer. All of these grains are easy to cook and can be done ahead for assembly up to a couple of days later.
In the recipe below, I’ve used and given directions for bulghur or burghul wheat, which is a dried, cracked wheat grain common in Middle Eastern dishes (tabbouleh is probably the most commonly known dish to include it). You can substitute any other grain you like, but I love bulghur here because it’s got an earthiness that goes well with the lentils, and it absorbs a lot of dressing without becoming soggy (as couscous sometimes does). It’s easy to cook bulghur either by steaming as I do, or simply by covering with boiling water and letting the grains soften and absorb the liquid. Steaming will give a fluffier end result but if you don’t have a steam oven it’s still well worth making via the absorption method. Use the same quantity of water, just make sure it’s boiling instead of cold, then cover the dish and give it a good half hour to absorb.
Happy cooking, see you here again soon.
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Lentil, Grain and Herb Salad with Orange
- 1/2 cup Puy lentils or green lentils, rinsed
- 1 cup fine bulghur wheat
- 1 bunch flat leaf parsley chopped
- 1 bunch coriander chopped
- 1 bunch mint chopped
- ¼ whole red onion finely chopped (more if you love raw onion)
- 3 tbs slivered almonds toasted in a dry pan, or use chopped toasted almonds
- 2 tbs baby capers rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup currants or sultanas
- 1 lemon juiced
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 2 oranges peeled and segmented
- 1 cup Greek yoghurt
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 3 tbs pomegranate molasses honey works as a substitute if you don’t have any
- Put the lentils into a bowl and cover with 1 cup of water. Put the bulghur wheat into another bowl and cover with 1½ cups of water. Put both bowls into your cold steam oven and set it to 100°C/212°F, steam setting (100% humidity).
- Cook the bulghur until all the liquid is absorbed and the grains have just a little chew, about 25 minutes. Cook the lentils until they’re just tender. I can’t give you an exact time for the lentils – depending on the age and quality of the ones you use, it could take anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour. I start checking at 25 minutes as the bulghur wheat comes out, and every 10 minutes thereafter until I’m happy with the texture.
- Once they’re cooked, fluff the wheat grains with a fork, drain the lentils and put both into one bowl. If you’re preparing ahead, you can cover and refrigerate the lentils and wheat at this point, for up to 24 hours. When you’re ready to finish the salad, steam them again for around 12-15 minutes to heat through before dressing.
- Add the herbs, onion, almonds, capers, currants, lemon juice and oil to the bowl and mix very well to combine. Taste and add salt to season well, then mix again. Add the orange segments and mix gently so they don’t break up.
- Mix the yoghurt and cumin together and set aside in a small bowl.
- Serve the salad at room temperature, with the cumin yoghurt to the side and pomegranate molasses for drizzling over the top.
- Serves 8 as a side dish.
- I am fine eating this as a stand-alone meal, but for the less salad-inclined members of the house, I serve it with some baked meatballs. I mix together half a kilo (a pound) of beef or lamb mince, a handful of breadcrumbs, half a finely chopped onion, a good pinch of salt and a teaspoon each of ground cumin, ground coriander and ground turmeric. Bake in a hot oven (regular or combi steam) until they’re browned and cooked through. They’re a great addition if you like things a little more meaty.
- If you want to prepare ahead, cook the lentils and wheat up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerate until you want to make the salad. Pop them back in your steam oven to reheat just before you stir through all the other ingredients. I’ve noted this in the method below.
- I’ve specified fine bulghur wheat for this dish – it’s commonly found as fine grit or coarse grit. The coarse version is absolutely fine to use but you’ll probably need to give it extra cooking time for the grains to fully absorb the moisture.
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If you’re after more delicious substantial salad recipes, try this red rice, quinoa and pumpkin beauty, my Christmas rice salad with cranberries, pistachio nuts and feta cheese, or the Moroccan couscous (with or without the accompanying lamb).