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October 24, 2012

wind blow, long low and lonesome | sexy lentil & parsnip salad

There was a severe weather warning in place for strong winds that would appear in the afternoon and drop by nightfall. This is exactly what happened - at 3pm wild winds rocked the trees outside my window, and the ground by our letterbox was sprinkled further with wilted yellow kōwhai flowers. 

I love the wind. It energizes me, blows the unnecessary circular thoughts out of my mind. A good fresh Wellington southerly makes me feel alive. However, I also know for others it makes them feel unsettled, stressed and a bit flighty. A good remedy for such feelings is to eat something substantial and heavy; something to satisfy a possibly anxious stomach. A friend and neighbour, L, was coming around for dinner, planning to introduce us to authentic tortilla espanola after discussion the previous evening of the differences between a Mexican tortilla, a frittata, and tortilla espanola (and the fact ascertained that tortilla is pronounced tor-tiiia, not tor-till-a). We needed an accompaniment to this tortilla espanola, so while L chopped and washed potatoes, I put together this salad.

As I chopped the parsnips, with river cottage Hugh's roasted parsnip recipe in the back of my mind, I located ingredients and thought about the complementing flavours and textures. I had read a very interesting recipe just the day before, which had highlighted the fact that a dish often has multiple different tastes or elements that incorporate and complement each other. Slowly, I gathered bits and pieces from our pantry and our fridge, and a new dish was born.

I was not, however, prepared for the reaction of the two males, T and L, at the dinnertable. Much to J and my amusement their satisfaction bordered on orgasmic - and involved extended, expletive-filled proclamations of delight. L said he saw the lentils and the peanuts and felt a bit doubtful of the end result, but in the end was emphatically won over by his tastebuds (thankfully!). It was even suggested that a dinner of tortilla espanola and this salad could convince even the most devout carnivore that you can have a perfectly filling and delicious meal without meat. As my meat eating friends already know, that is the reason I cook dinner for them (I'm joking...kinda).

Often after finishing a dinner made from a new recipe, we have a bit of a musing on ways to improve it. We'd made hugh's warm parsnip and lentil salad more than once before, following the recipe almost exactly. It was also delicious, and thanks to that recipe I began to appreciate the sweet, earthy taste of parsnips simply roasted with oil, salt and pepper. One thing we wondered after we made the original recipe was if adding walnuts would be good. That is the main difference I've made here - to add pan roasted peanuts. They offer a contrasting crunchy texture and the addition of tahini in the dressing supports their nutty flavour. Hugh's salad is lighter, more zesty and lemony. This is the windy day version! 

sexy lentil & parsnip salad

inspiration for this recipe from hugh fearnley-whittingstall and this recipe from his book, veg everyday.

I know that lentils and parsnips are not exactly the sexiest vegetables in and of themselves. However, the combination of flavours and textures of this group of early spring ingredients looks attractive and tastes unexpectedly delicious - so sexy is definitely a good adjective for this dish. Actually, puy lentils happen to be quite attractive, don't you think?

This salad is also vegan, dairy free, and gluten free - making it a good option for pot lucks where you might not know the dietary requirements of all those eating. It is probably worth mentioning that Hugh's original recipe is not vegan as the dressing contains honey. It is not exactly a quick salad to make - so perhaps not suited for those nights when you're extremely hungry or time-pressured; but it's also fairly non-intensive so you can do some chopping and pop things on, then sit down for 20 minutes to peruse blogs, drink chai, send emails, listen to music. . 

for the salad
miner's lettuce (or arugula, watercress, mesclun, sorrel, or a mixture)
3-4 parsnip
1 cup puy lentils
half an onion
2 bay leaves
parsley stems (3-5)
10-20 asparagus spears
half a cup of red raw peanuts

for the dressing
5 cloves garlic - as evidenced below I actually used 11 - our garlic is currently pre-peeled and preserved in olive oil so we're using a lot more than we otherwise would. The pieces of roasted garlic are really good here so if you're a fan of roasted garlic feel free to add more.
2 tbsp tahini
1 tsp English mustard (not grainy)
olive oil
juice of two lemons
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
sea salt
cracked pepper

Peel the parsnips and cut them into small cubes. Place in a roasting dish, with a little olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper. Roast at 200ºC for 20 minutes until soft and slightly golden and crunchy. In a separate small container, simultaneously roast the 5 cloves of garlic in some more olive oil, with rosemary sprinkled on the top, for 10-15 minutes or until soft and light brown. If you put them in the same dish, you won't get the uniquely delicious, caramelised flavour of the parsnips.

Put the lentils in a pan with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Let them boil hard for 2 minutes, then drain. Add the lentils back into the pan with new water, and add the onion half, finely chopped, the parsley stems and the bay leaves. If your bay leaves are fresh from the plant, fold the leaves a couple of times first. Have the heat on low and gently simmer until the lentils are soft but not falling apart - this takes around 30 minutes. When they are done, drain them and leave them in a separate bowl to cool. 

Sort your miner's lettuce, trimming any long stems and removing any pieces of grass - our miner's lettuce came from J's parents' garden. If you've purchased yours you may not need to sort and trim quite as intensively! Be careful to let the warm ingredients cool before bringing them into contact with the lettuce or you will end up with wilted greens. This is particularly true if you're using sorrel - which wilts, and turns an unattractive greeny-grey colour. Keep sorrel to the side and serve it separately. 

Snap the ends off the asparagus - my mum taught me to snap the ends off rather than chop them off with a knife, as snapping them means you get rid of any of the end that's dried/woody. Chop the spears into three. After the lentils are done, boil some more water and a little sea salt in the same pan. When it's at a rolling boil, drop the asparagus pieces in. Let it boil for just 2 minutes; then drain and rinse with cold water to end the cooking process. 

Chop up the roasted garlic cloves. Add the tahini, mustard and olive oil. Add the balsamic vinegar, mix. Don't be tempted to use more balsamic vinegar - it has quite a strong flavour and would be too overpowering with more than just a teaspoonful. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. You want to have about 1 cup total of the dressing. If you don't have enough, mix in more lemon juice and oil until you do. 

Lastly, dry roast the peanuts in a medium hot, heavy bottomed pan. You'll know that they're done when the skins start to split. When they are almost done, add just a little olive oil and salt, turning the pan so all the peanuts are coated. 

Assemble your salad, starting with your lentils. As you tip them into the bigger bowl remove the bay leaves and parsley stems. Make sure they're warm, not too hot. Add the parsnip, asparagus, miner's lettuce and roasted peanuts. Finally, stir in the dressing, and serve immediately. Serves five as a side dish (to tortilla espanola!) or three as a main.

You will have to excuse the picture - it does not do the salad or its sexiness justice. The good light (daylight) was gone and my camera struggles without it - partly because I refuse to use the flash, but partly because it's not equipped with good low light capabilities. Unfortunately at the time of eating we were all too ravenous to pause for pictures. When it was served, this bowl was filled to the top - the part you see above is what we saved for flatmate L who was working late and arrived home in time for chocolate and tea.

Hugh suggests serving this with some hard cheese, like parmesan or pecorino, but I would not add cheese to this version. I think that the flavour of the tahini replaces the flavour that cheese might add. It's also worth trying the recipe as Hugh makes it, as it's also delicious - but different. 


title from woody guthrie - listening to the wind that blows

top picture taken on a ricoh kr-5; film is kodak gold 200


  1. the beautiful, generous comment you just left on my silly blog has lead me here, to your STUNNING space!

    I'm SO making your sexy salad (because food should be sexy more often). Loving your photography too!

    xo em

  2. Hello wonderful little blog!! This is very very beautiful!

  3. This looks amazing! I love the pictures as well. Thanks for finding my blog and I'm excited to discover your's.

    xo Lilly

  4. that looks lovely, so lovely I am going to tweet it to share with others :)

  5. I happen to be one of the ones that likes a little wind! And, I want to try this recipe soon!

  6. Yummo! These are sexy salads indeed.
    I am drooling (which most definitely is not sexy!).