Before heading off for our Christmas festivities, Jordan and I spent a Saturday poking around Berkeley. My idea was to grab lunch at Cheeseboard, find a few outstanding gifts and then check out Berkeley Bowl, an independent supermarket of epic proportions (40,000 square feet!). The line for Cheeseboard was around the block, so we grabbed some pastrami at Saul’s Deli instead. (Not a bad call. The waffles are also delicious). Gift shopping was mostly unsuccessful, but if we’re honest, this outing was planned around the food.
Once at Berkeley Bowl, we dutifully explored each aisle with special attention paid to the vast beer selection and exotic produce. It’s a fun place to kill a few hours if you like food. We were on our way out with an assortment of tasty treats when we realized we’d spent two hours in a grocery store and still hadn’t planned anything for dinner. After a lunch of pastrami, something vegetarian for dinner seemed reasonable. I recalled some sort of lentil salad and out of grocery store fatigue we decided to run with it. At Berkeley Bowl, they have at least six types of lentils for anyone who might be counting. I chose the prettiest ones, black beluga lentils.
This dish is simple and beautiful. The egg yolk when combined with the vinegar dressing from the lentils makes the most delicious sauce. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the perfection that is a runny egg yolk. It would be a tremendous effort to make a sauce as lovely from anything else, but with eggs it is simple—just don’t overcook them.
The salad also keeps quite well. Eat it cold from the fridge the next day for lunch, or snag a few bites before you run out the door in the morning. I can also imagine swapping the egg for poached or pan-fried fish. If you’re not an egg person but want to keep it vegetarian, you could add some crumbled goat cheese or feta.
Lentil Salad with Poached Eggs, adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
1 cup lentils (we used black Beluga lentils because they hold their shape when cooked, plus they are quite pretty)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely diced shallot
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 – 2 eggs per person, depending on how hungry you are
Pick out any grit from the lentils and rinse them with cold water. Put them in a medium saucepan and over with water by 3 inches. Season the water with salt until it tastes like salt water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and pour into a large bowl.
Toss the lentils with the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Let sit for 5 minutes. Taste again and add more salt or vinegar if needed. Add the olive oil, shallot and parsley and toss to combine. Set aside.
To poach the eggs, rinse the saucepan you cooked the lentils in and fill it with 4 – 5 inches of water. Bring to just under a simmer and add 1 teaspoon white vinegar. Crack an egg into a small cup or mug. Stir the water gently in a circle to form a whirlpool. As the whirlpool spinning begins to slow, gently pour the egg into the water. If you get the cup as close to the surface of the water as possible before pouring it in, it is easier to keep the white from going all over the place. Fresh eggs also make this easier (but I’m sure you all already know that!). Use a spoon to snuggle the white around the yolk. Let cook for 3 – 4 minutes and then remove with a slotted spoon. I can usually cook about 3 or 4 eggs at a time in a 3 1/2 quart saucepan. If you’re making any more than that, I’d do them in batches. You can also trim off the little egg white tails that furl off the egg to make your poached eggs look even more perfect, but I’m not that fussy. (Our friend Roche also shared this video in the comments, which is for a technique he finds flawless.)
To serve, mound the lentils on a plate and top with a poached egg and some fresh pepper. Enjoy!
Ps. Today marks Jordan and I’s eighth anniversary. (!!!) I wouldn’t have found a smarter, funnier or handsomer fella if I tried. I couldn’t be more happy or more grateful. I love you Jordan!