Lentil salad

Joan calls condiments, "soup". Whenever there's a bottle on the table, be it a chutney, hot sauce or apple cider vinegar, she will continually ask for "more soup!" until I end up having to put it out of sight. The funny names for seemingly ordinary things is one of our favourite things about this age, as she learns to speak. Ben and I grin like love-sick fools whenever Joan asks for "patate" on her toothbrush. One day, probably soon, she'll realise it's called "toothpaste". One day she won't call tomatoes "naipoes" or orange "onu", and she'll ask for peanut butter instead of "peanie butter". For now, we're soaking it up, encouraging it, even. "More soup, Joan?", I asked over the weekend, as I drizzled more apple cider vinegar on my lentils. "More soup! Joanie, soup!", she replied.

The three of us spent Anzac Day pottering around the house, building cars from cardboard boxes and cooking lentils. There was a block of haloumi in the fridge, which I fried, and used to create a little salad with chopped vegetables from our farm box. I made a simple, sharp dressing out of apple cider vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, and decorated it with fennel fronds and toasted seeds. When we sat down to eat, I decided the dish needed even more acidity, so I drizzled extra vinegar over the lentils (not before offering Joan more soup, of course). It made for a lovely lunch, so I decided to share the recipe with you today (which means, hurrah! After multiple requests, I am finally describing my lentil cooking process. Though be warned, it's terribly simple). I can imagine plumping up this dish with fish (whether fresh, cooked fillets or canned+oil-packed), diced boiled eggs or shredded chicken. Some quinoa would work, too, though then you would would certainly want to double the dressing. And do scatter a little more apple cider vinegar over the dish while you eat. The lentils soak it up and beg for more.

Lentil, Haloumi and Fennel Salad

Serves 2 adults and one child

1 cup black beluga lentils
2 cups water (or homemade broth**)
1 large bay leaf

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 handful of fennel fronds, finely chopped***
1 red capsicum, diced
100g haloumi (~half a block, cut into 2.5cm wide strips)
1/4 cup pepitas, lightly toasted for optimum deliciousness

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (plus more to taste)

Optional serving suggestions: boiled egg, fish fillets or shredded chicken.

* These lentils are a favourite of mine. They hold their shape well when cooked, and make wonderful additions to salads. Read this article for more information on different lentils and cooking times. If you cannot find black beluga lentils, substitute them with French green lentils (lentilles du Puy). Another tip: double the lentil and water quantities here and have leftovers. Note: I don't soak lentils, but feel free to soak them before cooking (it can aid in digestion and nutrient absorption).

** homemade broth is milder (and tastier) than store-bought. If using store-bought broth, use half water/half broth.

*** if your fennel doesn't have the fronds when you purchase it, you could add parsley instead.

1. To cook the lentils: wash them, then place in a pot with the water (or broth) and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for ~15 minutes until just tender (taste to check), then remove from the heat (draining any excess water) and cover with a lid. Leave them to continue cooking off the heat, with the lid on, for 10 minutes. (I like to cook my lentils a fraction less than other recipes, and allow them to cook in the pot once the heat is off. Cook them for longer if you prefer).
2. Meanwhile, chop your salad ingredients, toast the pepitas and prepare the oil+vinegar dressing in a jar.
3. To cook the haloumi, put some olive oil in a skillet and when hot, fry the pieces until golden. Flip them over and cook until golden on the other side. This usually takes me around 2-3 minutes in total. Remove them to a chopping board to slice into bite-sized pieces.
4. Assemble the lentils, fennel, capsicum and haloumi in bowls. Scatter the fronds, drizzle the dressing and scatter the pepitas. As you eat, add extra apple cider vinegar if it pleases you.

Heidi xo