Picnics are wonderful, no matter the kind, and the key to success is keeping them simple. You don’t even need to grill, or rely exclusively on hot dogs and burgers: In fact, a meatless, or nearly meatless, main dish can be lovely.
A big vegetable salad is the answer (a green salad less so, though not impossible). For protein and substance, look to beans and other legumes. I’m an unabashed devotee of beans, and a purist to the extent that I prefer to cook my beans from scratch.
Although canned beans are convenient, I don’t mind waiting the hour or so that most dried beans take to cook, or planning in advance to have beans ready and waiting in the fridge. For flavor, it is worth the effort.
If you really can’t fathom cooking your own, try lentils, which are ready in 30 minutes or less. For a lentil salad, cooking from scratch is the only choice. (I don’t know anyone who opens a can of lentils except for a quick bowl of soup.)
Lentil salads are always in season. In cooler months, I like to serve the dressed lentils warm. For summer, lentils make a perfect base for a colorful room-temperature salad that leans Mediterranean, with elements found in many a Greek salad, like tomatoes, peppers and feta. Anchovy fillets, good tuna and hard-cooked eggs contribute southern French or Italian sensibilities.
A big platter of this summery lentil salad makes a fine meal, suitable for a picnic or a perfect no-fuss make-ahead supper.
MEDITERRANEAN LENTIL SALAD
By David Tanis
- 1-1/2 cups small brown or green lentils
- 1 bay leaf
- A few thyme sprigs, tied in a bundle
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1-1/2 pounds tiny new potatoes
- 12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved (about 3 cups)
- 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced and soaked in ice water
- 2 red bell peppers, roasted, skin removed and cut into long, wide strips
- 8 anchovy fillets (optional)
- 8 ounces good-quality canned tuna, drained, in large chunks (optional)
- 4 hard-cooked eggs, halved or quartered
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped mint
- 3 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
- Small handful basil leaves, for garnish
- 1 cup good-quality black olives
- 4 ounces feta cheese, cut in 1/2-inch slices
- >> Dressing:
- 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, plus more to taste
- 2 garlic cloves, grated or smashed to a paste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon crumbled oregano, plus a little more for sprinkling
Rinse lentils and put in medium saucepan. Cover with 4 cups water and add bay leaf, thyme sprig and a large pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer gently with lid ajar for 20 to 25 minutes, until lentils are tender. Set pot aside and let cool to room temperature.
Cook potatoes in another saucepan covered with water and with a heaping teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to brisk simmer. Cook about 15 minutes, until cooked through. Drain and set aside. (If desired, remove skins from potatoes while still warm.) Cut in halves or quarters.
Meanwhile, make the dressing: In a small bowl, stir together vinegar and garlic. Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in oil. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in oregano.
Put tomatoes in bowl. Drain onion slices; add to tomatoes along with roasted pepper strips. Season with salt, then whisk dressing and add half. Toss to coat.
>> To assemble: Drain lentils and place in wide, shallow bowl or platter; let cool 10 minutes. Add remaining vinaigrette, sprinkle with salt and toss gently. Taste and adjust seasonings. Top with tomato- onion-pepper mixture. Arrange anchovy fillets, tuna (if using) and eggs on top. Sprinkle with mint and parsley.
Arrange halved or quartered potatoes around perimeter. Garnish with basil leaves, olives and feta. Sprinkle a pinch of oregano over all. Serves 6 to 8.
Nutritional information unavailable.