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By Jill Wendholt Silva, The Kansas City Star (TNS)

The lentil’s distinctive shape led ancient astronomers and physicists to refer to it by the Latin word for “lens,” according to Sheryl and Mel London, authors of “The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean” (Simon & Schuster).

Although lentils’ exact origin is unknown, various cultures, including the Middle East and India, use its many colorful varieties as a meat alternative. For The Star’s Summer Lentil Salad, we’re especially fond of the earthy taste of French green lentils (Le Puy), but they can be a tad tricky to track down, requiring a trip to a specialty store.

Although these quick-cooking legumes are basically interchangeable in recipes, green lentils retain their shape when cooked.

Lentils are rich in fiber and contain a steak’s worth of protein, folate, iron, phosphorous and potassium. Adding cherry tomatoes, cucumber and red bell pepper pumps up their nutritional profile.
Leftovers are excellent, and salad can be kept up to two to three days. For optimum flavor, add walnuts and feta just before serving.

Preparation tips: Toasting intensifies the flavor of the walnuts. To toast them, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted.
To quickly and easily seed a cucumber, slice the cucumber lengthwise. Use the tip of a small spoon to scoop out the seeds.

Serving suggestions: For more crunch, add one carrot, chopped, three to four radishes, chopped, and/or one stalk of celery, chopped, if desired.
Or serve in lettuce leaves as a lettuce wrap or in split pita bread pockets.

Makes 12 side dish servings or 6 main dish servings (total yield 6 \ cups)

1 cup green lentils
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 medium cucumber, not peeled, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh minced mint
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup crumbled reduced fat feta cheese

Cook lentils in boiling water according to package directions, until tender. Drain.

In a large bowl, stir together the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper and red onion. Stir in lentils.

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, mustard, garlic and pepper. Drizzle over lentils and vegetables and toss to coat evenly. Add mint and capers and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or up to several hours so flavors blend.

Sprinkle with walnuts and feta just before serving.

Per main dish serving: 195 calories (28 percent from fat), 6 g total fat (1 g saturated), 3 mg cholesterol, 25 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 77 mg sodium, 11 g dietary fiber.
Recipe developed for The Star by professional home economists Kathy Moore and Roxanne Wyss.

Photo by Rooey202 via Flickr

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