This healthy, protein-rich vegan dish can be a main or a side
In much of the world, September brings in-between weather. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re anticipating cooler temps, but we’re still seeing many warm (as in hot!) days. In the Southern Hemisphere, people are looking forward to warm weather, though the cold may still linger a while.
So planning meals can be a bit of a challenge, wherever you are. Warm temperatures call for something light. But that hint of chill makes you crave something with a bit of substance.
For weather like this, my go-to is a main course salad—particularly one with dried pulses or legumes. Vegetables keep it light, but pulses/legumes add a bit of oomph (not to mention protein). Mix in some quinoa, and you have a nutritional powerhouse.
Best of all, main-course salads can make a perfect “Meatless Monday” option for those who want to eat vegan or vegetarian at least one night a week. Add some bread and maybe a nice glass of wine, and you’re set—no matter what the weather gods throw at you.
Recipe: Lentil, Quinoa, and Zucchini Salad
This recipe features zucchini and tomatoes, which are abundant and locally-sourced in many US markets right now. But like he Summer White Bean and Quinoa Salad we discussed back in July, this is a dish you can change to accommodate whatever ingredients you have on hand. Rice or pasta could replace quinoa, for example. And you can substitute almost any vegetable that looks good in your market.
I’d keep the lentils, though. They have such great flavor—and work so well in this salad—that I wouldn’t substitute for them. Besides, it’s always great to find a new use for lentils. (Many of us eat them only in soups, which is a shame, given their great taste and nutritional value).
The combination of fresh mint and parsley is wonderful, too—so I’d definitely give that a try.
It takes about 45 minutes to make this dish, although if you cook the lentils ahead, you can cut that time in half.
This recipe makes about a quart, which is enough for 4 hearty main-course servings, or about 8 sides. Leftovers keep well for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 1 cup dried lentils (brown lentils are what you’re most likely to find, though French green lentils keep their shape better when cooked; see Notes)
- ½ cup dried quinoa
- ~1 pound zucchini
- ½ red onion (about ½ cup when diced)
- 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers (optional)
- handful or two of cherry or grape tomatoes (about 1½ cups; or substitute large tomatoes, chunked)
- ½ cup fresh parsley, cleaned and chopped
- ¼ cup fresh mint, cleaned and chopped
- 6 - 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (approximate; to your own taste)
- 2 - 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- The lentils take the longest to cook (usually 30 to 40 minutes for brown lentils), so start with them. Pick through the lentils and remove any tiny stones or clumps of dirt that might be in the package. Rinse the lentils, then pour them into a 2-quart pot. Add about 3 cups of water, bring the lentils to a boil on top of the stove, then turn the heat down so the water is just simmering. Set the timer for 20 minutes—the lentils won’t be done at that time, but you want to check on whether they need more water. Cook until the lentils are soft and edible, but still hold their shape (after 30 minutes I check frequently—they complete their cooking in a hurry).
- While the lentils are simmering, cook the quinoa according to package instructions (this usually takes 10 to 15 minutes). Generally, you should use twice as much water as quinoa (so use about 1 cup of water in this case) and cook until all the water is absorbed. You can salt the cooking water or not, as you prefer. Once the quinoa is cooked, let it stand to cool off a bit.
- Next, wash the zucchini, cut off the ends, and slice lengthwise. Then slice lengthwise again (forming quarters), and cut these slices into quarter-rounds measuring about a third of an inch. Place the cut-up zucchini in a microwave-safe dish with a lid, and add a tablespoon or two of water. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Check the zucchini to see if it’s done—I like mine to have just a bit of crunch; continue cooking if it’s not. My microwave usually takes about 4 minutes; yours may differ. Once the zucchini is cooked, let it stand to cool off a bit.
- Meanwhile, cut a red onion in half and peel one of the halves (reserve the rest for another use). Cut the peeled half into dice of about ¼ inch. Place in a medium mixing bowl.
- Wash jalapeño peppers and cut lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds (be careful, the oil on these is hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). You may want to reserve a slice or two of pepper for garnish. Chop the remaining pepper slices into very small dice (or use a mini food processor). Add the chopped peppers to the mixing bowl, then wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin.
- Wash the tomatoes. If using grape or cherry tomatoes, I usually cut in them half (although you can keep them whole if you prefer). If using larger tomatoes, I always cut into chunks (and try to lose some of the seeds and watery pulp along the way—these don’t add anything to the salad). Add the tomatoes to the mixing bowl.
- Wash and dry the parsley and mint, and chop finely. Add to the mixing bowl (you may want to reserve a bit for garnish).
- By now, the lentils should be done. Drain the lentils, rinse them briefly with cold water to cool, then add them to the mixing bowl. Add the cooked quinoa and zucchini to the bowl.
- Toss all the ingredients together to mix, then start adding the extra virgin olive oil. Don’t add it all at once—you really don’t know how much you’ll need. I usually start with about 3 tablespoons, toss with the ingredients, then taste. Only then do I add more if necessary. How to tell if you have enough? You want a thin—THIN—coat of olive oil on everything in the bowl. But when you take a bite, you should taste ingredients first, olive oil second.
- Once you’ve added sufficient olive oil, add the lemon juice. Again, start with about half of what you think you’ll need. Taste, then add more if necessary.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, and toss to incorporate. (Alternatively, you can add these after you’ve added the oil and before you add the lemon juice.)
- Taste again, adjust seasoning if necessary, and serve. A garnish of mint, parsley, or jalapeño slices adds a nice touch.
- I like the color of red onion in this dish, but you can substitute yellow or white if you prefer. Or use scallions.
- And of course you can substitute yellow squash for zucchini. Or use another veggie entirely.
- The cooking time for lentils increases as they age (and dry out more). They do tend to lose their shape a bit when overcooked, although their flavor is still good. In this salad, I don’t find the shape issue to be a problem. But if you’re concerned, you may want to substitute French Le Puy green lentils. They hold their shape much better when cooked.
- Cooking time can also vary depending on the type of lentils you’re using. Brown lentils usually take 30 to 40 minutes (for me, closer to 30 is normal). But some other lentils (red ones come to mind) take about half that time. So if you’re not using brown lentils, watch the pot carefully to avoid overcooking.
- We’ve talked about quinoa before, but I’ll repeat myself for those who may be new to the blog: Quinoa has become deservedly popular over the past decade because it’s highly nutritional and gluten free (it isn’t a true cereal grain because it isn’t part of the grass family; rather, it belongs to the chenopod family, a pseudocereal). Quinoa has more fat than most cereals, including small amounts of omega-3 fatty acid.
- Because of its popularity, demand for quinoa has exploded—as has its price. Alas, the price probably won’t drop anytime soon. In a recent Washington Post article, Lydia DePillis explains that quinoa will likely remain in short supply because although the world’s major producers (Peru and Bolivia) are increasing output, demand is growing even faster. And though quinoa can be grown in North America, the market isn’t yet large enough to tempt farmers to plant it here—especially since it can be a difficult crop to cultivate.
“It’s interesting how often we eat meatless,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, snarfing down her Lentil, Quinoa, and Zucchini salad.
“Usually at least twice a week, and frequently more often,” I said, applying my own fork. “I’m not making a conscious effort to cook vegan or vegetarian, either. It just happens that way. There are so many great-tasting dishes that don’t rely on meat for flavor.”
“Especially ones with lentils,” said Mrs K R. “I love them in dals. Like that terrific Dal with Swiss Chard that uses pink lentils.”
“Or soups,” I agreed. “Way back when we started the blog, one of our earliest posts was on Easy Lentil Soup. And with chilly weather coming, we’re getting into soup season.”
“I can’t wait!” said Mrs K R. “But we still have lots of zucchini and tomatoes. I hope you have plans for them.”
“Absolutely!” I said. “In fact, our next post will feature zucchini pancakes. They make a great light dinner entrée. They do contain eggs and dairy, though, so they’re vegetarian, not vegan.”
“Vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian, whatever,” said Mrs K R. “I don’t discriminate. My main interest is flavor!”
Amen to that.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Summer White Bean and Quinoa Salad
Dal with Swiss Chard
Easy Lentil Soup
Edamame and Bean Salad
White Bean and Tuna Salad
Summer Pasta Salad
Or check out the index for more recipes