When I think of a potluck, I can't begin to tell you the memories that flood my mind and fill me with a nostalgic sense of where I come from. As a child of the 70's, I remember the basics: edible flowers in wooden bowls, and lacy patchouli scented tablecloths strewn with every type of home-grown sprout & fresh tofu or edible wild green. Circles of hands & the feeling of well-worked adult fingers wrapped around mine.
Back in those days, the hippie counterculture was in many ways well-defined by folks who, like my parents, left their meat and potatoes upbringings to seek a greener, leaner, and more karmically positive life. My folks were just two of many who broke the mould of what was then commonplace to enjoy many of the things that now, some 35-40 years later, are finally coming to the forefront of everyday culture all across not just North America, but across the world.
These brave young people were, in a sense, early pioneers in what would become our current food movement, leaving their urban upbringings to raise children among raised beds and wooden houses made of driftwood. Back then what we see now as finally becoming (just a little) mainstream was considered even more downright crazy, but they didn't care, because they knew they were onto something good, and something real, and something infinitely better than what was then on the table.
Fast forward to now, and I smile at the mere thought of those who think this way of life is just a passing fad.
To me, a potluck such as today's defines what it means to share in what's good in life, and to fully revel and appreciate the unique offerings we each can bring to the table (in food and in life). I can't tell you the number of times I've attended a potluck or dinner party only to crave something other than the standard vegetarian options: salads of lettuce or the cheese plate (I am not a strict vegan so sometimes this will do) or the veggies and dip.
Sometimes I just want food with heart, and to me that means vegetarian soul food. Enter today's salad, which combines a few of my most favorite veggie comfort foods (with that yummy dressing I posted this week).
French lentils are quite possibly one of my favorite foods of all time. They combine incredibly with other fiber rich foods and taste fantastic dressed and ready to go. I am always impressed beyond measure to see them on a restaurant menu, and know when I see them that someone really 'gets' it. So there, I love lentils. And combined with all of this goodness? Anyone will dig in. Guaranteed.
French Lentil & Vegetable Salad(1) cup French lentils (or Beluga lentils), soaked in cold water for 4-6 hours
(1) orange yam, peeled and cubed
(1) large red onion, peeled and chopped
(1-2) tbsp olive oil, for roasting
(1/2) tsp salt, for roasting
(8) large raw Brussels sprouts, washed and shredded 5-6 fresh basil leaves, ribboned
(1/4) + cups Balsamic Soy Vinaigrette
Start by soaking the lentils, giving either overnight or the good part of the day to soak them (4-6 hours is usually adequate). To cook, put up a vegetable steamer full of enough water to steam for 20-25 minutes to boil. Rinse the soaked lentils in plenty of cold water and put them up to steam with the lid on (turn the water to a rolling boil once the water reaches a full boil). When the lentils are tender, but still firm, remove them from the steam heat, this should take about 20-25 minutes. Set aside in a bowl to cool a few minutes.
While the lentils are cooking, heat the oven to 425 degrees and oil a flat baking tray. Toss the chopped yam & red onion in the oil and salt and lay flat on the baking tray. Bake at 425 degrees until golden, about 30 minutes all in, being sure to flip at the 15-minute mark to ensure evenness.
Once the cooking gets underway, shred your Brussels sprouts and prepare the dressing. While the lentils are still warm, toss them in a little of the dressing - this will mean the lentils get well coated in flavour before they cool - making them (IMO) extra delicious. Once the veggies are done, remove from the oven and allow to cool. When all of the ingredients are at a comfy (read: room temp) temperature, toss everything together, adjusting the amount of dressing you use to taste.
Serve in a bowl or on a simple platter and for larger groups, I recommend doubling the recipe. The dressing recipe in the last post will make an ample amount of the dressing, which can also be used in any number of fantastic ways. Cut and toss the basil leaves on the top just before serving, as this will keep them green & fresh to the eyes.
On its own, this dish is an easy all in one meal that combines many nourishing elements. Cooked lentils & nutrient-rich yams with raw green veggies & tossed in a light but intensely flavoured dressing. Folks, if you are out there reading this and wondering what to bring to your next party, this might just be it.