Cook's Illustrated challenge: Lentil Salad

A vegetarian main course: lentil salad.

This recipe promises creamy but firm lentils. It piqued my interest, because somehow I always manage to mushify these quick-cooking legumes. Maybe this recipe will change my luck, I thought!

It didn't. Sigh. I ended with a bowl of tasty, yet overcooked, lentils.

Following are my notes on the recipe:

The good: The "dressing" for the salad is salty and punchy — feta, kalamatas, shallot and mint with a white-wine vinaigrette.

The bad: When the lentils are tossed with the dressing, they break apart. I wanted lentils with more tooth, and because they were slightly mushy, the salad leftovers were gooey and slightly unappetizing.

Botched technique? The recipe calls for first soaking the lentils in warm water for an hour. Then you drain the lentils, place them in a saucepan with water, broth, garlic, bay leaf, and salt. The covered saucepan goes in a 325 degree oven for 40 to 60 minutes until the lentils are tender but intact.

I let the lentils soak for probably an hour and 20 minutes, but they spent closer to 40 minutes in the oven. Perhaps that first short soak is more important to texture than the oven time.

Gato, background in window, keeps watch as we eat at the picnic table.

Servings: The recipe says it serves four to six, which is accurate. It's definitely best on the first day.

Encore? I don't know if I'll make this again. I ended up making this recipe twice because the first time I made it, I misread the warning to NOT use red lentils, and that's exactly what I did. Red lentils make terrific dal because they disintegrate. Aptitude for disintegration is a poor characteristic for this recipe.

In related business: Well, friends, the November/December issue of Cook's Illustrated arrived at VHHQ last week, and my goal was to cook through the September/October issue before the next edition showed up.

I made all but two recipes before the next issue arrived, and I cooked through all the main courses. I have cranberry muffins and chocolate pudding left to make. I plan to blog about my experiences with the other recipes regardless of failing the challenge. It was a lofty goal, and I'm happy that I got as far as I did.

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