In December I was given a beautiful little cookbook by a very arty and art-talented person – Maria, whom I’ve known for many years now –, which has been made by a small school of arts in a small place in the North of Germany. Instead of a picture of the dish, each recipe is accompanied by a work of art by a regional artist, resulting in the most colourful cookbook I have ever seen. On purpose, the recipes often come without exact quantities of the ingredients used, leaving lots of space for creativity and spontaneity while cooking. This said, ‘following’ the recipe for the lentil-date salad, I switched and swapped ingredients, left out the coriander (feel free to add it back in), added what I thought might be a good addition (vanilla! it does go really well here) and served it with farro (spelt) pasta for a full-fledged meal. I imagine I will make this again completely different next time, but as a starting point, you find a neat little recipe here to play around with… and if I understood correctly, that’s exactly the intention of this very arty cookbook.
This dish is rather sweet, but the cayenne and feta cheese keep its savoury side in tact (and if you think it is too sweet, you can use less dates). You could equally just have it as a salad, without the pasta, or mix it through a green salad to make the latter more filling. Last, but not least, it surely would also make for a great pita bread filling, with some spinach leaves added and maybe some hoummus or tahini… Anyways, options enough!
Note: Using freshly cooked lentils and marinating them while still hot, results in a deeper flavour, but if you need to save time you could use pre-cooked lentils as well (just make sure to warm them through before using).
Pasta With Lentils, Dates and Feta
Adapted from ‘Kochkunst’ by Kunstschule Spuk
200g green firm French lentils, such as Du Puy
1 bay leaf
400g good-quality (spelt) fusilli or penne (or another small pasta shape with a nice bite)
2 tablespoons light olive oil for frying
1 white onion, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
4 tablespoons good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
pinch of cayenne powder
pinch of vanilla seeds or vanilla essence
8 soft dates, finely chopped
a small handful of pecan nuts, alternatively walnuts or almonds, roughly chopped
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, stalks finely chopped and leaves roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt and at least 10 grindings of black pepper
optional: 100g feta
some extra-virgin olive oil and parsley leaves for garnishing
Thoroughly wash the lentils under cold running water and drain in a colander. Place them together with the bay leaf and about ½ litre cold water in a medium-size pot, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer (partly covered with a lid) and cook for 15-20 minutes until al dente (mine were already done in 15 minutes). Drain and place in a big bowl.
In the meantime, cook your pasta in plenty of salted water until al dente, according to package instructions.
Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Sautée the onions for 5 minutes, until translucent, then add the celery and parsley stalks and continue frying for another 5 minutes. Turn off heat.
Pour the onions and celery over the still hot lentils, adding olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cayenne powder, vanilla, dates, nuts and parsley leaves. Season with salt and pepper and leave to marinate for ten minutes.
Mix the lentils with the pasta and, if using, crumble the feta on top. To finish, add some more olive oil and parsley.