Today I walked outside and the air smelled crisp and clean. It was still warm, and the breeze felt good on my bare arms. It’s the first day that really feels like Fall. Gone are the salads of light, crisp greens and bright lemony dressings, and in it’s place stand brightly colored harvest vegetables, hearty grains and beans, and creamy dressings.
Enter this salad. Actually, I’m not sure that it can be defined that way, as pretty much everything is cooked, and it is still warm – but it includes a dressing, so I’m sticking to my guns here. Diced sweet bell peppers, which you can use raw or cooked to your liking, peppery french lentils, some toasted nuts and seeds, all tossed with an orange-y creme fraiche dressing and topped with lots of fresh basil. I’m gonna go ahead and say you can use any type of lentil you’ve got, except for red, but I just happen to adore the grassy, peppery bite of frenchie here, especially with the sweetness of the peppers and orange, and the creaminess of the dressing.
2/3 c. french lentils, rinsed and picked over for rocks and such
1/4 c. slivered almonds
1/4 c. sunflower seeds
3 T. olive oil, divided
2 bell peppers, diced
2 T. creme fraiche
1/4 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
salt and pepper to taste
a big handful of basil, chopped
Add the lentils to a large pot and cover with 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, turn to low, and simmer, covered, until tender but still with a little bite, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes to finish cooking. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, place the almonds and seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, tossing every once and a while, until toasty, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the same skillet, and add the peppers. Cook until they are the texture you like them, 3-5 minutes for a firm, crispy pepper, up to 10 minutes for a softer, sweeter pepper.
Now make the dressing. Combine the creme fraiche, orange juice, and the rest of the oil (2 T.) in a small bowl and whisk. Add salt and pepper until you’ve got a strong tasting dressing – the flavor will disperse when it’s mixed with the salad.
Combine the lentils, peppers and half the nuts/seeds in a large bowl. Pour in the dressing and toss to combine. Garnish with basil and the rest of the almonds and sunflower seeds.