Grain, lentil salad stands out at picnics, potlucks

Luxuriant leaves distinguishing the celery plants in my garden inspired this week’s food section column.

Any lush, leafy green can form the foundation for delicious pesto, augmented with a wide variety of nuts, acid and other additions. My column encouraged thinking outside the box and experimenting with globally inspired flavors. Celery leaf and pistachio pesto was the column’s featured recipe, one I borrowed from the Washington Post.

Post food writer Emily C. Horton advocated purchasing locally grown celery for its predictably pronounced flavor and many times more leaves than grocery-store counterparts. Find such celery at farmers markets, if you don’t grow your own.

If you can’t track down locally grown celery to dice for this salad, it’s still a worthwhile recipe for its uncommon ingredients and spicy-zesty dressing. Featuring emmer, a type of farro, and Puy lentils, which I love in salads, this is guaranteed to stand out at summer potlucks and picnics. It also would be a hearty traveler in warm weather and pair beautifully with the grilled lamb chops from this blog’s previous post.

Find emmer, an heirloom hulled-wheat grain, at natural and organic food stores or substitute wheat berries. The lentils can be omitted or swapped for cooked chickpeas or white beans.

Photo by Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post

Emmer, Lentil and Celery Salad With Lemon-Cumin Dressing

1 cup whole emmer (may substitute wheat berries)

3/4 cup dried green French du Puy lentils or brown Spanish Pardina lentils

2 cups diced celery ribs

1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced

1/4 cup finely diced onion

2/3 cup chopped parsley

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted, then ground (see NOTES)

1 large garlic clove, peeled and pounded into a paste, or minced

1 to 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or Marash red-pepper flakes

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon unhulled sesame seeds, toasted (see NOTES)

1 (4-ounce) block good-quality feta cheese (optional)

Place the emmer in a medium, heavy pot. Cover with water by 2 inches; bring to just below a boil over medium heat; partially cover and cook for 35 to 45 minutes, until emmer is just tender but still chewy. (Wheat berries might cook for 50 to 60 minutes before becoming tender.) Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain completely; once emmer is completely dry, transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, place the lentils in a medium, heavy pot. Cover with water by 2 inches; bring to just below a boil over medium heat, then partially cover and cook over medium heat, until lentils are barely tender, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and allow lentils to cool in their cooking liquid. Drain thoroughly, then transfer them to bowl with cooked emmer, along with the celery, poblano pepper, onion and parsley.

Combine the salt and lemon juice in a small bowl, stirring until salt has dissolved. Whisk in the oil until emulsified, then add the cumin, garlic and red-pepper flakes to form a dressing.

Pour over bowl of emmer mixture, tossing until well-coated. Add half of the toasted sesame seeds, then toss salad again. Garnish with remaining sesame seeds.

Divide among individual plates; crumble 1 ounce of feta cheese, if using, over each portion. Serve right away.

Makes 4 servings (about 6 cups).

NOTES: Toast the cumin seed in a small, dry skillet over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely, then grind into a coarse powder in a dedicated spice grinder.

Toast the sesame seeds in small, dry skillet over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, shaking pan as needed to avoid scorching, until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely before using.

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