Lentil and Salmon Salad on Tomatoes–Reading Molly O’Neill

This salad features late chef and food writer Molly O’Neill’s perky Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette.

I can’t figure how this happens, but occasionally there’s an extra piece of salmon at our house–typically from a dinner party. Usually, the following night, I throw it in the food processor with cheese, herbs, and garlic; we spread it on crackers or scoop it up with fresh vegetables and have it with a glass of wine. Other times it’s chopped and added to some simple greens because who doesn’t like that instant sort of dinner? #justaddvinaigrette



To pan saute salmon, heat a skillet over medium heat for two minutes. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil; heat another minute until quite hot. Add salted and peppered salmon fillets, skin side down. Cook 4-5 minutes; turn. (If it doesn’t lift easily, leave it for a few more seconds unlike what I did above.) Cook 4-5 minutes for medium rare fish more OR until done to your liking. 145 degrees is the FDA safe temperature for salmon. Many cooks and chefs serve it much rarer, taking it off at 120 degrees F, then covering it to rest for a few minutes. See below for more info.

“Never Overcook Your Salmon Again” Rick Martinez, BON APPETIT, 9/2015



Sometimes, though, I’m looking for something else to do with that little bit of starting-to-feel-sorry-for-itself cooked fish. For the past few weeks or so, I’ve also been thinking about ways to get more legumes into our summer diet for healthful reasons. In the winter, there’s lots of bean or lentil soups, but not so much come summer. A lentil salad might do the trick and while there’s plenty of protein in many legumes, they aren’t a complete protein unless served with rice. I love rice, really I do, but I was thinking fish here and salmon was on my mind.

Lentil and Wild Rice Salad with Poached Eggs

I’ve made a lot of lentil salads over the years ..see above.. and have even stirred up a stellar lentil risotto topped with salmon as a first course for a multi-course wine dinner I cooked with Colorado Springs chefs a few years back, but this would be new. And easy. Perfect for picnics. And inexpensive, right?



A couple of favorite ingredients for this salad are:

How to cut carrots
Now you know why thyme is called a woody herb! This thyme was planted a couple of years ago in my large backyard herb garden; the next year lots of new little baby thyme plants popped up. I took one of the new small plants and transplanted it into a container at my front door for ease of cutting and cooking, to say nothing of its tiny purple flowered beauty. I have more thyme than God.


Since big as life chef and food writer Molly O’Neill died in June at 66, I’ve been perusing two of her books from my shelves, NEW YORK COOKBOOK and A WELL-SEASONED APPETITE. I greatly admired her style and approach to living, but hadn’t been terribly familiar with her work. I wanted to change that.

While I discovered she owned a restaurant, wrote for the New York Times, hosted the PBS series Great Food, wrestled up a blog, taught food writing and did many other things (she was an avid baseball fan), I wanted to keep digging into these two large volumes to see if I could get a better sense of her food center, if a bit belatedly. One way I accomplish that is to check cookbooks’ indices every time I want to cook even the most menial or basic sort of dish. What were the instructions for mixing biscuits? How was a turkey approached? Was the writing as big of a draw as the recipes or was it a wash? How about…Stories? History? Humor? Tragedy? Loss and healing? Love? Tales of cooking while growing up? Gardening? Travel? Could I put the person together if I made their mom’s favorite chicken and then fried eggs just like their first husband loved them when they visited Tuscany on their honeymoon? The answer was, “Probably not,” but I could come away better knowing a woman my own age who had made it in the cooking-writing world…and had certainly done it her way. What little I’d read over the years now slammed home one indisputable, simple fact: this was one smart writer. I do mean smart in the typical sense of intelligent, but I also mean smart in the fashionable sense. Not fashionable as in clothing (I have no clue about such things), but rather fashionable in a sophisticated, witty, and erudite way that I rarely hear anymore. Let’s call it eyebrow and snicker-raising, entertaining food writing. All this from an Irish girl with a slew of brothers from Columbus, Ohio, who crossed the river way too soon. While she made a success of it all early on, I was raising my children, teaching school, working in libraries on Air Forces bases or at The National Trust for Historic Preservation, directing myriad church choirs, and coming into my very own mostly late to the party.

-a happy reminder of SILVER PALATE-style cookbook days

By the way, there’s little about roasting a turkey in either of these volumes, though there’s plenty about cooking chicken in THE NEW YORK COOKBOOK and I quickly found a few turkey stuffings I’d try just for grins and giggles–“Italian Fig and Prosciutto Stuffing,” for one. This is a fun, absorbing book even if you don’t live in NYC and won both the Julia Child/IACP and James Beard Awards.

Imagine diving into that pile, the detritus of summer past, the soil of gardens to come. Every time you write, you dive, headlong, into the unknown. This morning, you are diving into the leaves, feeling them against your hands and face, tangled in your hair. You are smelling them, rolling in them, being foolish and young in them and writing down every sensation, every image, every thought you have. When the timer goes off, brush off and leap boldly into your day.”

writing prompt from Molly O’Neill

Read Molly’s blog cookNscribble.

Read “Food Porn,” by Molly O’Neill–Columbia Journalism Review, Sept. 1, 2003

Good food was young. It drank. It showed thigh. It probably rubbed elbows with the Beatles. But even in the whirl of their purple prose and gossamer tales of edibles gone by, food writers promoted a fundamental shift in the way America began to view dinner in the 1950s.”

Excerpt from “Food Porn” by Molly O’Neill

Read Molly O’Neill in the New York Times Magazine, December 22, 1996

Meanwhile, up on the mesa in Colorado Springs, I was rustling up my lentil and salmon salad. What did Molly say about lentil salad–or did she? Nada in NEW YORK COOKBOOK, but I hit the jackpot in A WELL-SEASONED APPETITE, which is a lovingly-designed book full of captivating stories and beautiful recipes that is perfectly divided into the four simple seasons. Published when Molly was a grown woman, chef, and fine writer at 43, she appears amazingly youthful in her professional author’s photo, which solidifies my lifelong belief that cooking keeps one young. A WELL-SEASONED APPETITE included “Mediterranean Lentil Salad with Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette” in the summer chapter right on page 155. The salad itself was edifyingly simple (my lentil salads typically include everything plus the kitchen sink), but the vinaigrette was obviously the star and what awards the dish its sweet summertime song. Giving off only a firm whiff of garlic and celebrating two bright yellow lemons’ tang, the dressing called for just two teaspoons of all the acres of thyme I have growing in my yard, but I went with it anyway. Luscious and versatile, it would work with many mixes of garden vegetables or grains and perhaps only needed a dash of heat for my taste. Instead, I threw in a little crushed red pepper right into the salad itself and called it good.

Use up that little silly piece of leftover salmon (or cook extra next time), make some heart and gut-healthy lentils, chop your favorite vegetables, use the fresh herbs on hand, and whisk together a lemony vinaigrette in memory of the humorous human, entrancing writer, and tasty cook that was Molly O’Neill:

lentil and salmon salad on tomatoes

Have a piece of salmon left from grilling? How about a 6-ounce can of wild salmon? Cook up some lentils, chop a few vegetables, whip up Molly O’Neill’s Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette, and you’re set for dinner for 4 or a first course for 6-8.
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Course: Appetizer, First Course, Main Course, Salad
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Lentils, Salmon

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups lentils brown or green, well-rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon EACH kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Generous pinch crushed red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 2 stalks celery minced
  • ½ medium fennel bulb cored and minced
  • Medium carrot, trimmed, peeled, and cut into small dice
  • ¼ cup minced fresh parsley
  • ½ cup kalamata olives, coarsely chopped-plus extra left whole for serving
  • Molly O’Neill’s Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette–See Notes
  • 4-6 ounces cooked salmon, skin and bones removed, chopped or flaked with a fork
  • 4 large tomatoes-for main course or 6-8 small ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges. Sprinkle the tomatoes with a little salt and pepper before adding the salad to them
  • Thyme sprigs or fresh mint for garnish
  • Lemon wedges for serving optional

Instructions

  • Add lentils to three quarts of water in a 4-quart pot; bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and let cook until tender – about 20 minutes. Drain well, tip into a large mixing bowl, drizzle with the olive oil and red wine vinegar, and sprinkle with the salt and peppers. Stir well. Add the onion, celery, fennel, carrot, parsley, and olives to the lentils; stir again. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and toss well. Carefully stir in the salmon. Taste and adjust seasonings. Using a large ice cream scoop or ladle, place about 1 ¼ cups of salad at the center of the tomatoes on each plate for 4 main servings. Use about ¾ cup each for 6 first-course servings or a bit more than ½ cup for each of 8. Add a few of the reserved kalamata olives around the edges of the plate. Garnish the plates with a thyme sprig or mint and a wedge of lemon, if using.

Notes

Other vegetables substitute easily for the ones I’ve used. Try chopped cooked green beans or asparagus, diced grilled eggplant, or sautéed leeks or mushrooms. Additions could include toasted chopped nuts, diced sharp cheese, pepitas, or other crunchy favorites. Large red sweet bell peppers, cut in half and grilled, could substitute for the tomatoes if desired.
MOLLY O’NEILL’S LEMON-THYME VINAIGRETTE:
Whisk together in a small bowl ¼ cup fresh lemon juice, 2 minced cloves garlic, and 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme. Slowly whisk in 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil. Whisk in the ½ teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Molly’s recipe also includes 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley. I’ve left it out here as I added parsley to the salad itself.
Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2019. All rights reserved.

WINE: I do, I just love Pinot Noir with salmon as long as the preparation doesn’t fight my wine–such as when the fish is cooked in a really spicy tomato sauce with lots of peppers or something. Here, there’s no such problem, so pop that Pinot, honey. Hopefully one from Oregon.


STUFF I’VE BEEN WATCHING

I’m a bit of a PBS aficionado and lately am impressed with the programs featuring Jamie Oliver and cooking with just 5 ingredients. He’s always fun, right? I mean, while there are sweet-quick everyday meals, there’s also stuff like “making watermelon snow” for goodness sake. “How cool is that?”as he says. Actually, he’s sounding a bit like Ina, right? Or here’s another one, probably not quoted exactly right: “I’ll just take a little of that ginger syrup and KISS it around a bit.” Yep, he’s the deal. And naturally there’s a book. Nah, I don’t work for Jamie. I don’t really work :/ except here. And I’d call this fun.

My buddy on the screen door to our eastern deck as I tried to take photographs. I think this is some sort of giant leopard moth. Perhaps a female as it’s on the smaller side–about 1.5 inches.
I changed sides of the yard to try the light for photos in the west; these clouds were my companions.
A few hours later, this amazing sky appeared and there were reports of tornados east of our house–very unusual for the Rocky Mountain front range.

It’s always good to go outside if you’re a cook. Thanks for reading and do summer on,

Alyce

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