I particularly love how one vegetable can be the spokesperson for an entire season and asparagus is certainly the one who speaks for spring. This Super Green Lentil Salad recipe leans on asparagus for a more complex flavor.  The stalks, sautéed briefly in a bit of hot oil, turn bright green and if you time it right, stay crisp and retain their earthy and slightly bitter flavor.

This lentil salad, though primarily green, has various textures and flavors: The base of mild green lentils, then asparagus (our spring ambassador) and the bits and pieces that make it interesting: crisp shallots, lemon zest and cheese.

Lentils — the French variety — hold their shape and provide a subtle backdrop to the other more robust tastes in the dish. Pea shoots, which you can find at the farmer’s market or the grocery store right now, are delicate and though they’re shaped like tiny leaves, have the bright flavor of a pea. Pecorino Romano is a dry and crumbly Italian cheese, made from sheep’s milk. It’s salty and robust, and a small amount goes a long way. The recipe calls for two tablespoons, so start with that, and add more as you like. Fresh basil adds a final pop.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup French lentils

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

  • 1 large shallot, trimmed, peeled and sliced thin

  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

  • Zest of ½ lemon, removed with a vegetable peeler and sliced into strips

  • 2 cups pea shoots, cut into 1-inch lengths

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese

  • 1 small handful fresh basil leaves, torn

  • Freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS to make the perfect SUPER GREEN LENTIL SALAD

  • Rinse the lentils and combine with ½ teaspoon salt and 2 ½ cups water in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat, cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook the lentils for 20 minutes and then allow to cool.
  • Meanwhile, add two tablespoons of olive oil to a large skillet set over medium low heat and cook the shallot until soft and starting to turn golden brown. Add the asparagus and toss the pan around a bit. Cook until it’s bright green and tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and season with ½ teaspoon salt.
  • In a large salad bowl, combine the cooled lentils with the asparagus mixture and the pea shoots. Pour the remaining olive oil and squeeze the lemon juice over all and toss to combine. Top with the cheese, basil and ground pepper and serve at room temperature.

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Caroline Barrett writes about food and families. She teaches cooking classes at Different Drummer’s Kitchen in Albany. You can find her at www.carolinebarrett.com.