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Spring clean

You know, it’s been entirely too long since I thanked you, friends, for the comments you leave here. There have been so many of them lately, and I’m always floored by the sweet, smart things you say. I like to think that this site is a conversation of sorts, a place where we come to swap recipes and dinner plates, a kind of trading post where cakes and chickpeas are perfectly valid currency. In another era, we would have sat around a big table, I’m sure, with aprons and iced tea, shelling peas and gabbing. Instead we leave comments on the computer. It’s a little different – we’re missing out on that fresh, green peapod smell, for one – but really, it’s just as good.

For the past few days, I’ve been thinking in particular about a comment from my recent post about Lyon. Left by a reader named Rosemarie, late of Illinois, it read, “Yum. I’m trying to move back towards simpler foods and seeing that plate of charcuterie, lentils, and salad really hit the spot. I wish we in the U.S. could embrace this fare.” It was only a few sentences, but it got me thinking all weekend about the way I choose to eat, and why. Quite often, I am asked about the type of food I cook, and the type of recipes that will be in my book. I always stumble through my reply, mumbling about country French cooking, and seasonal foods, and the Pacific Northwest, and vegetables, and oh wow, I love banana bread and meatballs, and cabbage and radishes and graham crackers, and seriously, there’s nothing like a good brownie, and, have you ever made a soufflé, because really, I’m telling you, it’s a snap to make. In short, I’m a disaster. For someone who devotes the better part of her brainpower to food, I can hardly eek out a coherent sentence about why I eat the way I do. I just do. It’s what feels good, and what sounds good, and what, somewhere along the way, someone showed me how to do. Come to think of it, my approach to cooking and eating is like my approach to most things in life: I put one foot in front of the other, and lo and behold, it takes me somewhere. Then, if I look around enough, I can usually figure out where that somewhere is, and what I can do there. Or, in this case, what I can eat there. None of which adds up to a nice, pithy description for the back of a cookbook, but eh, it works most days. It’s a work in progress.

Lately, I feel a lot like Rosemarie. Brandon and I always eat fairly simply – a bowl of chickpea salad here, some slivered fennel there – but in recent days, especially, I want things with as little fuss as possible. I think of it as a kind of spring cleaning. I’m sweeping away all the clutter and fiddle, making room at the table for summer. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, actually, about the baguette sandwiches I ate in Paris. They were so lovely, so spare and artfully spread, with just enough butter and cheese and salty ham to stretch from tip to tip. They were utterly graceful, if one can say such things about a sandwich. I want our table to be laid that way, with that sort of beauty and simplicity and care. It isn’t always a breeze, but sometimes, it’s so easy that it takes me by surprise.

Take last Saturday night, for example. There wasn’t much in the fridge, and we weren’t particularly hungry. It was especially pretty, still sunny at six thirty, so we decided to walk up to our neighborhood alehouse for a beer. We sat outside and, an hour or so later, were scarily tipsy on one beer each – they were serious Belgian brews, but also, we’re awful lightweights – so we tottered home to make dinner. (And just so you get the full mental image, you should also know that we stopped at Goodwill, which, for the record, should never be done under the influence. We came out with a set of frilly flowered plates and twenty wide-mouth Mason jars, which we loaded into a shopping cart and rolled, rattling and thumping and giggling, all the way home.) We weren’t up for much cooking – much less wielding sharp knives – so we banged some lima beans into a pot with a little water, olive oil, garlic, and parsley. While the beans simmered, we washed some frisee and tossed it with vinaigrette and a chopped egg, and I dug from the fridge the last of a misshapen slab of bleu d’Auvergne. We sat down fifteen minutes later to what felt like a small victory: a bowl of lima beans scented with garlic, a tangle of pale greens flecked with yolk, a sweetly pungent cheese to smear on hunks of yeasty bread. We slurped and chewed and scraped, and when we looked up from our plates a little while later, our wits once more intact, we agreed that it was one of our loveliest meals. It could have been the beer, of course, but I think it was something else. It was spare and simple, and just enough.

It was a particularly good weekend. In fact, I felt so inspired by our tipsy feast that on Sunday, I decided to continue the trend. (Food-wise, mind you, not drink-wise. Ahem.) With Rosemarie’s comment in mind, I decided to make a simple lunch Lyonnaise, a lunch of charcuterie and lentils.

This is the kind of thing I could eat every day and still never get enough. In fact, when it was served to me and Mom at Café des Fédérations, we had a terrible time not licking every last nub and sliver from the serving dishes. We could have, of course, but then there would have been no room for the four courses to come. So instead, I filed away a mental note to make a batch of lentil salad when I got back to Seattle, and to shell out for some fancy salami from Fra’Mani. (It’s not a saucisse de Lyon, but it works in a pinch.) And on Sunday afternoon, that’s exactly what I did. I dug out a lentil salad recipe that I’d made once before, a warm one speckled with carrots, celery, onion, and thyme and dressed just smartly enough to make a second spoonful an absolute must. Served alongside cornichons and salami and leftover soup and washed down with a wedge of watermelon, it was, I think, my new standard lunch. It was simple, spring and clean. Rosemarie, this one’s for you, and for me.

French-Style Warm Lentil Salad
Adapted from Epicurious.com

This lentil salad isn’t exactly like the ones I’ve eaten in France – those were usually plainer, with just vinaigrette and flecks of raw shallot – but I like it just as much. (And – bonus! – it doesn’t leave me with shallot breath.) It also keeps and reheats well, and it tastes even better the next day, which makes it perfect weekday lunch material.

1 cup French green (also known as “Puy”) lentils, picked over and rinsed
3 cups water
1 Turkish bay leaf
½ tsp. salt, divided
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
5 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 Tbsp. plus ½ tsp. red wine vinegar
½ Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Crunchy sea salt, for serving
2 Tbsp. finely chopped Italian parsley, for serving

In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils, water, and bay leaf to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in ¼ teaspoon salt, and then simmer, covered, for another 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but not falling apart.

While the lentils simmer, warm 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and 1/8 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just softened, about 7 to 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons vinegar, mustard, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil, and whisk to emulsify.

When the lentils are ready, drain them in a colander or sieve, and discard the bay leaf. Dump them into the skillet with the vegetables, and add the vinaigrette. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, until heated through. Stir in the remaining ½ tsp. vinegar, and serve warm, with crunchy salt and parsley for sprinkling.

Yield: 4 side-dish servings


Blogger Truffle said...

This sounds heavenly. I think it's an eating philosophy we should all start adopting.

3:10 AM, May 22, 2007  
Anonymous Mary said...

This lentil salad looks exactly like the one I learned how to make when I was 17 and living with a family in France. I love it so. So simple yet so delicious. And sandwich au jambon, nothing else on it, with a glass of red wine, is always the first thing I eat when I get to France. Thanks for your lovely thoughts.

3:45 AM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger hannah said...

oh yes, i so get you molly. these are the days when i can barely stand to turn on the oven, much less a burner for more than 20 minutes. i usually resort to the grill, or the blender. we drink a lot of smoothies in the summer. we also find ourselves out on the porch with one communal plate of cheese and apple slices more often than not. simple eating is where its at.

ps. just last night i found a can of garbanzos in the back of the pantry and you know what i am making today. brown baggin' it indeed!

6:34 AM, May 22, 2007  
Anonymous Luisa said...

Post perfection...

6:58 AM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

There really is something to be said for getting back to basic, simple cooking

7:45 AM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger Alice Q said...

I just love the image of you "rolling thumping and giggling" all the way home! I think your taste in food is very appealing and original - so all I can say is keep it up! I am looking forward to the book!

8:16 AM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger Rosemarie said...

It's so nice to know that you actually read our comments and take them to heart. I was honored to see that I inspired your post, but you couldn't have said it better than anyone. Cheers, Rosemarie from Illinois

9:02 AM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger Aileen said...

Yet again - another lovely post. And, yet again, I've come to its conclusion only to find myself in the conundrum of being, simultaneously, determined to linger over a leisurely re-reading of it whilst equally determined to go dashing into my kitchen to frolic and revel in all its inspirations. Thanks for what you do! I also loved your description of la cuisine de bonne femme. I think the moniker I aspire to in my own kitchen is "humble magnitude" (and due to the northern latitude of my current stomping grounds, it is all too often a pantry of humble magnitude that I truly celebrate in my kitchen). But I think James Beard's moniker might actually be the truest simplicity of all: good cooking.

“I don’t like gourmet cooking. Or this cooking. Or that cooking. I like good cooking.”
James Beard

12:08 PM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger Figs, Olives, Wine said...

What a beautiful post, and, yes, my urge of late has been to move towards the simple and unadorned too. I find there's so much more room for enjoyment when the experience and flavors are clean - even sparse. Your food philosophy is just like your writing: sensitive without sentimentality. Thanks for such intelligent and lovely thoughts, Molly.
Warmest wishes, Amanda

1:57 PM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger Michelle said...

What a coincidence, I just bought lentils at the store yesterday.
Can't wait to try your recipe. I too, feel the need for a cleaner, simpler style of eating. Wish every one could adopt this fare. I've been frustrated latey, living in the suburbs of OKC ... not much in the way of food; but between your thoughtful prose and the farmers markets opening up, I just may make it another year. Thanks!

10:29 PM, May 22, 2007  
Anonymous robin said...

I, too, find that I often enjoy what I call "gourmet picnic food" the best... maybe it's because I'm so busy and preoccupied most of the time but still love to cook and prepare food. I prefer clever taste and ingredient parings where the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts!

10:29 PM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger Shira said...

I wouldn't say that I ever did complicated cooking, but since I moved to Paris and started living by myself, these kind of meals are cropping up a lot more--even for dinner! And you know, it's not such a bad thing.
Re the lentils, I have two variations on the warm salad which I must make at least once a week. Cooked in a pan where I've sauteed bits of fennel, carrot and onion/shallot, or, and this is my favourite, cooked plain and dressed with toasted walnuts and heaps of fresh tarragon.

12:04 AM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger Caterine said...

Belgian beer? which one was it? I'm so curious to know which beers are drink abroad.

4:33 AM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

Hey Molly did you or Brandon does ever have any leftovers(hahaha)to work the next day? A lot of the meals seem like they could do well being transported to work.

5:17 AM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Meryl said...

I couldn't agree more - there is something about the weather this time of year that makes a simple plate of salad and a cool glass of Rose seem like true luxury. maybe it is because we can eat outside?

Thanks for the lovely post :-)

6:26 AM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Allergy Blog said...

What a beautiful post, it's so nice to know that you actually read our comments and take them to heart. This sounds heavenly. I think it's an eating philosophy we should all start adopting.

7:17 AM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger cindym said...

Yay, I'm excited to see a shoutout for Puy lentils. They changed my whole attitude about lentils in general.

By the way, it was great to meet you last month! :) I still am having trouble processing all the coincidences of that night at Spacca Napoli.


9:14 AM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger iamchanelle said...

i do believe this is one of my favourite posts, molly. so simply beautiful.

we could all use simplicity and gracefulness on our table from time to time. thanks for inspiring us to get there.


11:03 AM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger nicole said...

i also the simplicity of just a few things (especially post-pint!) and the lentil salad looks super yummy.

11:18 AM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger amisha said...

this might be my favorite post of yours yet, molly. so simple and inspiring and beautifully said. making the most of a moment, delighting in fresh, straightforward ingredients, relishing every bite. simple is so satisfying.

11:45 AM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous DC Sarah said...

Amazing. Just a few days ago, I was trying, with alas, much difficulty, to explain to my boyfriend why I cook seasonally, from scratch, and love taking the extra time and effort to do so. He's still in the "buy everything in bulk at Costco" phase in his life. (Poor soul! I now cook for him as often as possible). Anyways-as soon as I read your latest entry I shot it off to him-you articulated my feelings so perfectly! And so much more eloquently than I! Hopefully he'll learn something =) Can't wait to try the lentils!

2:25 PM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger Max said...

I made a lentil salad with goat cheese for Mother's Day and it was a big hit! I know it doesn't have the French vibe you went for here, but it was yummy!

In terms of French baguettes, I can safely say I crave them on a regular basis and can sympathize wholeheartedly. :)

3:14 PM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous blair said...

I just love the way you write Molly. And I love the Barking Dog!!! Its a good kid place when we need a good beer, so I know what you mean about the brews, they're so good, aren't they?

I am so invigorated by all the fresh food coming into its peak season, its really changing the way we eat almost without our even knowing it. Although I still love a good soup meal, right up until July.

4:04 PM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Angielala said...

I can't believe I went to the Williams-Sonoma website after reading your latest post, and they have a Baguette with French Ham, Gruyère and Cornichons recipe listed! I am going to try one this weekend.

1:34 PM, May 24, 2007  
Blogger Julie said...

It's an excellent post, an excellent point, and a fine looking salad recipe. But I am snickering just a wee little bit at the idea of charcuterie being simple food. I suppose it is simple in the sense of being rustic, and if you eat it unadorned, it has that simplicity. But it's only really simple food if you buy it. Otherwise, it can be pretty darned complicated (to make it yourself).

Anyway, I've never commented on your blog before even though I've been reading it since, well, near the beginning. Can't wait for the book!! You don't need a description on the back except "Orangette." We all know that means "excellent." Keep up the good work.

2:41 PM, May 24, 2007  
Blogger Papadesdeux said...

On one hand you obviously don't lack for encouragement or praise. On the other hand, I know that need can be a bottomless pit when you attempt something creative. So... I lend my kudos to join the rest. We the "commenteurs" thank you as well.

3:07 PM, May 24, 2007  
Blogger Cottage Smallholder said...

This looks wonderful. A really useful recipe, thanks Molly. At the moment my friend Anna and I cook lunch for each other every day. There is a certain unspoken element of competition. I prepare mine at home, so this would be perfect. I know that she'd love it too.

3:15 AM, May 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anita said...

This is my first time commenting here...This post was so on the mark. Simple everyday food can be good and satisfying.

A good and memorable meal does not necessarily entail hours in the kitchen or exotic ingredients. Those are for special times made even more memorable by shelling peas with friends around the table!

Thanks for another simply delicious recipe!

6:17 AM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger Julie said...

Charcuterie...that's what it's all about. When we traveled in Europe recently that is the only way I wanted to eat: cured meat, cheese, bread and vegetable. And of course you couldn't avoid hard-boiled eggs in Holland if you tried. I could eat that way forever.

11:39 AM, May 25, 2007  
Anonymous merritt said...

I just found you via apartment therapy and I have to tell you- this blog just makes me giddy with appreciation of all the good, warm things in life. I've been poring over the archives and I think you've found yourself a new regular reader.

3:30 PM, May 25, 2007  
Anonymous heidi said...

i just started reading your blog and i absolutely love it. i don't normally comment very often but i just had to tell you that i made your carrot-fennel soup the other day and it is unbelievably good. also made a yogurt cake for mother's day and it was a big hit! thank you!

7:27 PM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger Emily said...

Please know that I'm not making fun of you when I say this, Molly, but...

I find it a little amusing that you made a typo in the following sentence:

"I can hardly eke out a coherent sentence about why I eat the way I do."

10:09 PM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Thanks, Truffle!

Thank you, Mary. You're speaking my language! Lentil salad, sandwich au jambon, wine - yes, please.

Oh Hannah, I wish I could hop over for dinner on the Huffman porch! Cut up an extra apple for me...

Aw, thank you, dear Luisa. xo

My thoughts exactly, wheresmymind.

Thanks, Alice Q! Really, you should have seen us rolling that cart home, rattling down the bumpy sidewalk! I'm surprised our neighbors didn't come rushing to the windows to see what the racket was.

My pleasure, Rosemarie. Thank you for the inspiration!

Aileen, I hadn't heard that James Beard quote before, and I love it. Thank you! Here's to humble magnitude and good cooking.

Thanks, Amanda! Speaking of simple and clean, I love the idea of your fava bean and fiddlehead oriechette. Just the kind of thing I want to eat these days...

Hang in there, Michelle! The farmers' markets will save you! I've gotten some great sweet corn and tomatoes and melon from the market at OSU/OKC.

I like that, Robin! I think most of my favorite foods fit within the category "gourmet picnic food."

Shira, I love the idea of adding fennel to this salad! And a simpler one, with toasted walnuts? I'll have to try that next...

Caterine, it was a Rader Ambree. Really delicious. We also love Chimay.

Foodiechickie, Brandon and I are big leftovers eaters. He always takes leftovers to work, and I often eat them for lunch at home. Leftovers make the best lunches, I think.

Oh yes, a glass of rose! It's definitely rose time, Meryl.

Thank you, Allergy Blog! I really do try to savor all these comments. You guys have so much good stuff to say.

Hi Cindy! I know - wasn't that a crazy evening? So much fun. I wish we'd had more time to chat at IACP, but hey, maybe next year? Yes?

My pleasure, iamchanelle! I'm so glad you agree.

Thanks, Nicole!

Amisha, you know, I actually thought of you and your blog while I was writing this post! You do such a good job of making the most of a simple moment. You're a real inspiration, my dear.

We're most definitely on the same wavelength, DC Sarah. And don't worry - I'm sure your boyfriend will come around one of these days. Keep feeding him well, and he will...

Oooh, Max, tell me more about this lentil salad with goat cheese! Please?

Blair, we'll be looking for you guys the next time we pop into the Barking Dog... ;)

Angielala, there must be something in the air! Happy baguette sandwiching.

Thanks for the sweet words, Julie! And as for the charcuterie, yep, well, let's put it this way: you won't find me making mine from scratch anytime soon! But for most of us these days, it's so easy to buy that it definitely qualifies - in my book, at least - as easy, simple, unfussy food.

Merci bien, Papadesdeux!

Cottage Smallholder, I think this is perfect lunch fare. I hope you and your friend agree!

Thank you, Anita! It's my pleasure, really.

Oh, me too, Julie! Cured meats + cheese + bread + a few vegetables here and there = HEAVEN.

Thank you, Merritt! That makes me so happy.

I'm so glad to hear it, Heidi! I've been thinking about that carrot-fennel soup lately too. I think it's time for another batch around here...

Ack, Emily! Gah! Eek! Oh well. A girl's bound to make a typo every now and then, I guess.

10:59 PM, May 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anjali said...

I made this tonight and it was perfect for a late May dinner. I share your lentil obsession -- they're so quick and easy and always satisfying. Thanks for another great, simple recipe!

3:40 AM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger Tokyoastrogirl said...

Mmmmm, puy lentils are a favorite, and I love vinegar-based salads. Sometimes I get so caught up in trying new recipes that I forget to enjoy the simple yet profound food that can be tossed together, especially in Spring and Summer. Thanks for the reminder:)

11:56 AM, May 29, 2007  
Anonymous Grant said...

This is similar to a lentil's recipe in the Balthaza cookbook, but I love the idea of making it more, salady with the vinegar and the dijon mustard. What a great idea. This would be delicious to bring on a picnic.

1:06 PM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger Daily new!!! said...

I love your delicious recipe, could we publish it on our
Daily Recipe Blog?

We have every day a new recipe for: General recipes, Breakfast, Low Carb, Low Fat, Desert...
It would be so great to add yours!


11:51 AM, May 31, 2007  
Blogger Lillbet said...

Too funny! When I shop under the influence I end up with a hanky-hemmed flocked velvet skirt from arden b. and you end up with kitchen stuff :D

Simplicity is indeed bliss.

12:14 PM, June 15, 2007  
Blogger annie said...

You saved my life... or at least my appetite. I've been longing to recreate a warm lentil salad they serve at a French-style bistro here in NY, and came upon your recipe. It's so simple, flavorful, delicious, comforting and cheap! Thanks!

10:33 AM, October 23, 2007  
Anonymous Katie said...

Thanks so much for the recipe, Molly. Lentils are fairly new territory for me, so to stumble upon something so simple and delicious was great! I just made this for dinner and am in the process of polishing it off now.

6:49 PM, June 26, 2008  
Blogger Hannah said...

I'm new to your blog and I just starting exploring your archives. Your blog is beautiful. So is this recipe. I tried this last night and it was amazing.

8:55 AM, January 01, 2009  
Blogger Allison said...

This is a great recipe! I've made it twice now. I was looking for something to make with lentils with the ingredients I have on hand. Since I'm studying abroad in France, my pantry is somewhat limited. it's dishes like these that make me appreciate my simple cabinet!

11:21 AM, March 10, 2010  
Anonymous Julia said...

I love this recipe. I found it on your blog a while ago and have been making it all the time ever since. In case you are interested, I just wrote about it here (my very new, little food blog):

9:53 PM, July 19, 2010  
Anonymous Amy said...

Hi Molly, just wanted to say that I've made this a few times now and I love it more and more each time I do. I went on a trip to Lyon almost exactly a year ago now and it reminds me not only of that trip, but as you kind of talked about in your post, a better way to eat in general... thanks so much for sharing!

6:14 PM, April 06, 2012  
Blogger Kristyn Erickson said...

Hubby and I made this for dinner tonight, and it was so yummy. Thanks for the recipe!

8:47 PM, April 14, 2012  
Blogger Jessie V said...

molly - made this tonight and it was exquisite! THANK YOU!

5:24 PM, May 01, 2012  

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