Spring is in the air, and so is picnic time

Spring is in the air, and so is picnic time

By Michael Natkin, Jewish Sound Columnist

This salad is great to have in your back pocket for those potlucks and picnics that are starting to pop up on your calendar. It is easy to make, light and healthy, and packed with flavor that adults will love, but manageable for kids too.

In this kind of salad, cucumbers tend to leak a lot of juice, dilute the dressing, and make a watery mess. Salting and draining the cucumbers for half an hour or so solves this problem, and gives them a nice flavor and texture as well. If you make it a day in advance, you’ll still want to re-toss it and check to see if you need to drain off a bit of liquid. Wait until the day you are serving it to add the herbs as well.

If you are wondering about the beautiful pale color of these lentils, it is because I used the zero-tannin shasta lentils from PNW Co-Op. You can also order them from ChefShop.com. Otherwise a regular lentil will do. In either case, pay close attention to the last few minutes of their cooking. Stop too soon and your lentils have an unpleasant snap, but go too long and you’ll have made lentil soup! I like to cook them right up to the perfect texture and then immediately rinse with lots of cold water to stop the cooking.


Lentil and Cucumber Salad

Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and kosher

Makes a big potluck-sized bowl; cut in half for regular “family” use

2 English cucumbers

1 pound lentils

Kosher salt

1/2 red onion, finely diced

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

Big handful of fresh dill (reserve a bit for garnish and mince the rest)

Big handful of fresh mint (reserve a bit for garnish and mince the rest)

Peel the cucumbers and cut them in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Cut into half-moons about 1/3″ thick. Toss with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and place in a colander over a bowl to drain for about 30 minutes. If you are motivated, find some way to weight them for even better results. When they are nice and translucent and lots of water has collected, rinse the slices and then pat them dry.

Meanwhile, sort through the lentils and discard any non-lenticular matter. Rinse in several changes of water. Put in a medium pot and cover with a couple inches of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender but not mushy. Immediately drain and rinse in several changes of cold water to stop the cooking.

Combine the cooled lentils, cucumbers, onion, olive oil, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of salt, dill and mint in a large bowl and toss. Taste and adjust seasoning. It may need more salt or lemon juice. Look for that moment when the flavors start to “sing” a little, not just sit there meekly on your palate. If you are serving more than an hour or so later, refrigerate and hold off on the herbs and final flavor adjustment until close to serving time. Garnish with the remaining herbs.


Local food writer and chef Michael Natkin’s cookbook “Herbivoracious, A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes,” was a finalist in 2013 for a James Beard award. The recipes are based on his food blog, herbivoracious.com.