Last weekend I visited my folks in Spokane, and I got to work in the House of Charity kitchen with my mom. Watching my mom and the volunteers at HoC cook is like watching an episode of Iron Chef. On Monday, they had several sheet pans full of frozen wild-caught salmon (given to them by the government; Mom thinks that the fish may have been illegally caught and was confiscated), a bunch of lentils from the food bank and several boxes full of packaged spinach leaves (recently passed the “sell-by” date but still completely fresh). They stewed the lentils, tossed them with a sharp, mustardy vinaigrette, and let them cool. Then we roasted the salmon in the convection ovens and sliced the spinach into thin shreds. Each diner got a plate with a mound of fresh spinach topped with some lentils and a piece of salmon, with extra vinaigrette drizzled on top.
Folks, this was pretty great food.
When I got back to Seattle, I set out to make a scaled down version for the blog. I picked up some really great steelhead trout fillets at Uwajimaya (you could use salmon or any other meaty fish with delicious skin) and pulled my bag of lentils out of the pantry. I forgot to pick up spinach at the store, so I lightly sauteed some bagged collard greens and used that instead (next time I’d probably go with fresh spinach, as I mention in the recipe below). Everything except the fish was a pantry item – the tomatoes, carrots, oil, mustard, etc. was all sitting around already. And while a piece of crispy-skinned fatty fish completely elevates this dish, the lentil salad is great on its own as well. This is also a great dish for packing in lunches as it actually tastes best at room temperature.
Warm Lentil Salad with Steelhead and Greens
- 8 ounces dry lentils
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 1 large tomato, diced
- Mustardy Soy Vinaigrette (recipe below), or use your favorite vinaigrette with an extra dollop of Dijon mustard (it should be very strong and sharp tasting – the lentils can handle it)
- Roasted Trout (recipe below)
- 1 10-oz bag fresh spinach, cut in chiffonaded (roll up a stack of leaves and slice into thin ribbons)
Combine the lentils, carrots, 2 teaspoons salt, and 2 quarts water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover partially and reduce to medium-low. Cook for about 20-30 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked through but still a tiny bit firm (taste them; you’ll want to err on the side of more done rather than less done, but try to avoid making them mushy). Drain in a colander, reserving the cooking liquid. Toss drained lentils with 1/4 cup Mustardy Soy Vinaigrette and the tomato. Taste for seasoning; it may need a bit more salt and/or more vinaigrette. Set aside to cool. If the lentils seem to get gluey or gummy as they cool (mine did a little bit; I think it happens with older lentils that cook a bit inconsistently), add a bit of water or cooking liquid to loosen them up.
Roast your trout or salmon. (You can make your vinaigrette while the lentils are cooking. Also, the lentils will keep at this stage for up to a few days, so feel free to prepare ahead of time).
Plate your dish: place a small handful of spinach ribbons on a plate. Top with an off-centered 1/3 cup of the room-temperature lentils/carrots/tomato mixture. Balance your fish on top and drizzle a little extra vinaigrette over everything. Serve.
Mustardy Soy Vinaigrette
adapted from Serious Eats
- 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
- 1 small shallot, roughly chopped
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- salt and black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small container and blend with a stick blender until very smooth (or use a blender or food processor). Taste for seasoning: it should be assertively mustardy and vinegary. I also like a lot of black pepper in this (and that’s saying something, since I really don’t like black pepper). If you’ve overdone it on the mustard, salt, vinegar, or pepper, hit it with some more canola oil to smooth it out. If it seems really thick (and it might, because of the mayo), blend in a few tablespoons of warm water. This vinaigrette lasts forever in your fridge, and is great on bitter greens or in a pasta salad.
Roasted Trout (or Salmon)
- 4 4-oz fillets trout or salmon, very preferably with skin
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and preheat for 1 minute. Add oil and continue to heat until lightly smoking. Salt the skin sides of the fish and place them in the pan, skin side down. Salt the tops of the fish. Cook without moving for about 2 minutes, occasionally checking the skin side. After 2-3 minutes, add the butter and place the fish in the oven and roast for about 2 minutes. Pull the fish out and peek into them with a sharp knife: you want the insides to be cooked through but still fairly pink.
Remove to a plate to rest for a few minutes, then plate.