Recipe: Sarah’s Picnic Show-Off Dish (second-degree burns optional)

Tomorrow, we’re taking the kids to a neighborhood picnic.  Today, I made my go-to potluck dish, lentil-cous cous salad.

It’s pretty, doubles or triples easily, may be made the day of or the day before, can be vegetarianized or veganized in one simple substitution and/or one omission, and can sit out forever without risking more than the usual amount of food poisoning.

What’s not to like?

Okay, yeah, my kids won’t touch it and odds are yours won’t, either.  But don’t sweat that—someone else will bring potato chips.

The recipe takes:

1 cup of dry lentils
1 ½ cups uncooked cous cous^
14 oz. chicken broth (or veggie stock to make a vegetarian or vegan dish)
1 ½ cups assorted bell peppers, diced small
3 or 4 green onions, sliced into thin rounds
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped (leave off the stems as much as possible)

½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (takes two more lemons than you bought, guaranteed)
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon spicy brown or Dijon mustard (any kind but yellow, because ugh)
1 ½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon black pepper

1 cup crumbled feta cheese (omit this for vegans or non-lacto vegetarian friends)

First, pick up the opened bag of lentils from the wrong end and send little brown things skittering all over the kitchen. Sweep up and throw out the ones that fell on the floor—the ones on the counter are probably okay.  Rinse a cup of lentils, dump them in a saucepan, cover (plus three inches) of water, boil, cover, reduce heat, and cook for about 20 minutes or until they reach that magic moment between crunchy and pea soup.

Meanwhile, dice and chop everything if you haven’t already—and let’s be honest, only the FoodNetwork team is ever that organized.  Be very careful not to nick yourself with the knife because you’ll be squeezing lemons soon.

Microwave the whole lemons for about ten seconds each—it makes them easier to juice.  Squeeze those lemons—stings, doesn’t it?  Told you.  Strain the lemon juice into a small bowl to get out the pips and pulp.  You won’t have the right amount because you never buy enough lemons, even though your list said to buy two extra lemons.  And you did.  It’s a lemon thing—just top it up with water, because you will be damned if you’re going out in 98F, 92% humidity for two freakin’ lemons.  Swear that you’ll buy the stuff in the plastic lemon bottle next time, but you won’t, because of pride. 

Add the oil, mustard, minced garlic, and pepper and stir with the mustardy tablespoon.  Looks awful, doesn’t it?  Don’t worry, just set it aside for now and remember where you put it.

Lentils are done!  Drain, rinse in cold water, drain again, and pour them into the picnic-grade receptacle.*  Swill out the saucepan and pour in the broth.  Boil, add the cous cous, cover, and take off the heat—you don’t want to make polenta, trust me.  Set the timer for five minutes.  And whatever you do, turn off the burner and do not touch it with the side of your pinkie finger.  It hurts.  A lot.

Add the veggies and parsley to the cool-ish lentils and mix with a large fork.  When the beeper goes off, take the cover off the cous cous pot and stir with the fork to fluff.  Dump it over the lentils and veggies and mix well with the same fork.  Stir the mustard-mixture again with the tablespoon (to give the fork a rest) and pour over the lentils and veggies and cous cous, making sure to hit the big clumps o’ cous cous so they’ll loosen up.**  Give it all a good forking and let it cool for about ten minutes on the counter.

If you aren’t cooking for vegans or non-lacto-vegetarians, add the feta crumbles and fold them in with a spatula because you accidentally tossed the fork into the sink already.  Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge to meld, mingle, party, get down, or whatever food is supposed to do while the lights are off in there.

Go find the bacitracin and a band-aid for your burn.

Take your salad to the picnic and smile when everyone wants to know who made it except the kids, who will make faces.

Make faces back—it’s a picnic!

^This is a correction from my original post. Much thanks to Odie, without whom this would have been Lentil-nothing salad!

*I usually use a high-sided aluminum broiling pan with a plastic lid, so if it doesn’t come home or someone drops it, I’m out a buck and a half instead of my decent Corningware.

**Also be sure to keep your burnt pinkie finger well out of the way—lemon juice and oil might as well be napalm.