By Aine Carlin | May 16, 2011

Photo: Aine Carlin

I cannot enthuse enough about lentils. They are so incredibly versatile, unbelievably tasty and wow are they good for us. Since going vegan they’ve almost become my meat, so to speak, because they are the perfect textural replacement in many of my previously meat centered dishes.

Forget traditional shepherd’s pie laced with greasy ground beef, it’s all about the more refined and definitely healthier shepherdess version containing green lentils that have been cooked al dente. How about a spaghetti bolognese without fatty pancetta and minced pork or beef and instead ignited with the wholesome flavours of the awesome red lentil. And to be truthful, I’m not sure a life without dhal is a life worth living – I mix it up between red and green, sometimes both and serve as the main part of a hearty Indian style meal.

Photo: Aine Carlin

You know that horrible feeling you get after you’ve had a heap load of beef tacos? Why not make some ‘lentil meat’ instead and say cheerio to that post-taco eating bloat. Use herbs and spices to achieve the acquired taste and bingo, you’ve created your own personalized vegan taco that is sure to beat any meat one in the taste stakes.

Now whilst I like to include all sorts of lentils in my veganized dishes I also love ‘em on their own. It’s almost a crime to hide them in casseroles and the like when they should be the star of show.

The glorious puy is surely the caviar of the lentil world. It smacks of pure sophistication and holds its shape so well after cooking it’s the perfect choice for a lentil salad. I could totally sit down and eat a bowlful of seasoned puy lentils on their own and be completely happy, however, they do take particularly well to a bit of jazzing up, which is how this very salad came about.

Photo: Aine Carlin

I’m a sucker for sweet and savoury together and the marriage of puy lentils and the small but significant inclusion of chopped figs is a wonder. There may be heck load of other ingredients in there too yet despite that the puy lentil still manages to stand out – a testament to its magnificence.

Okay, I think I may have bigged them up enough, so now it’s over to you. Will you give lentils a chance? You won’t regret it!

  • 1 cup puy (french style) lentils
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 10 pomodorino (or cherry or grape) tomatoes
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp slice basil
  • 1 large dried fig
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp vegan wholegrain mustard
  • juice 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar (vegan)
  • 1 tsp agave syrup
  • 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper


1. Rinse and sort the lentils. Place them in a pan and top with two cups of water. Cover, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 15-20mins until tender. Not all the liquid will be absorbed so you'll need to drain. They will be delicate at this stage so try not to handle them too much. Set aside and allow to cool.

2. Finely chop the red onion. Slice the tomatoes. Wash and grate the courgette. Finely chop the celery - as fine as possible. Chop the fig into small pieces and zest the lemon.

3. Put all the ingredients including the lentils into a large bowl and gently mix. Season generously and add the lemon juice and oil. Thoroughly stir to incorporate the flavors.

4. Put all the dressing ingredients into a jam jar and shake vigorously until it emulsifies. Taste and adjust for seasoning if necessary.

5. Add the chopped flat leaf parsley, slice basil and seeds to the bowl, pour over the dressing and combine.

Serve alone, as a side dish or a starter. Would also work wonderfully with some crumbled cashew cheese sprinkled over the top.

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