Black Beluga Lentil Salad with Slumped Cherry Tomatoes

Sometimes the in-between state, the half-cooked state, is better than the raw or the well-done. Cherry tomatoes are perfectly good uncooked, but at that point, most of them are a blast of sweetness and not much else. A quick turn around a very hot pan with a little oil or a blast from the broiler loosens the tight skins so that instead of popping wide open on fork or tooth contact, they yield and yield and then burst – a bit more voluptuously than a raw cherry tomato does. In this dish, doing that produces warmed bright, sweet tomatoes that provide great contrast to the garlicky, savory lentil salad.

I found these black lentils at Whole Foods a few weeks ago. I love lentil salads in the summer – these tiny legumes lend themselves so well to a variety of chopped-up accompaniments and dressings – and these looked like they’d be perfect for such an application.

1 c. dry black lentils
salt to taste

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. jalapeno oil
1 T. canola oil
1/2 c. cilantro (that was what was on hand, but other fresh herbs – basil, mint, parsley – would also be great here in the same proportion)
salt and pepper to taste

2 pints cherry tomatoes, stemmed, washed and dried thoroughly
oil for the pan
salt to taste

Sort the lentils carefully to remove any stones or other debris. Wash in a mesh sieve. Place in a medium-sized saucepan with water almost twice the depth as the lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add salt to taste. Simmer for 25 minutes, until just tender but not beginning to break down. Drain in the mesh sieve and set aside in a large bowl.

Combine the garlic, lemon juice, oils and cilantro in the work bowl of a small food processor and buzz to combine. Pour over the lentils and fold in gently so as not to mash them.

Heat a small amount of oil in a large frying pan until very hot, nearly smoking. Turn the tomatoes into the pan. Let it sit for just a few seconds, then shake it gently every few seconds to move the tomatoes around. Cook them until their skins begin to pucker – this will only take a minute or so. Do not allow them to cook long enough to begin to come apart – you just want to mark them with brown spots here and there and warm them through. Season them with a little salt and set aside.

To serve, mound the lentils on a plate and top with some of the cherry tomatoes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about four servings.

For those of you who like eggs, I think the top of this salad – under the tomatoes – would be a great spot for chopped hard-cooked egg.

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