Celebrate spring produce with this bold, texture filled vegetarian salad! Black lentils, tender roasted asparagus, caramelized carrots, and fresh herbs come together for an easy, protein-packed dinner that’s heavy on flavor, and easy on the eyes.
Welcome to April my friends! This month is packed with so many awesome things that make it one of my favorites of the year.
First of all, it’s the month of my birth. Honestly, I’ve never been big on birthdays, but as I get older and more settled into non-stop mom-life, I’ve come to appreciate having one day of the year to celebrate me. And even if you’re not into celebrating yourself, just remember there’s cake involved. So let’s all resolve to climb onto the birthday wagon this year, put up our feet, and eat some cake.
April is also the gateway to legitimate spring in these mid-Atlantic parts, and that means all. of. the. green. stuff. is. coming. Green grass, green trees, green gardening gloves, green peas…and the queen of them all, asparagus. I’m literally salivating.
Asparagus is hands down my favorite green vegetable (yes, I have a favorite vegetable in each color, don’t you?!?). It’s season is short-lived, but it’s completely worth abstaining the other 10 months of the year to enjoy these tender stalks of tasty at their prime.
Simple roasted asparagus really shines in this black lentil situation. The lentils are an excellent blank slate for earthy asparagus, sweet carrots, and bright herbs. A dollop of tangy yogurt gets all of the taste buds firing for a simple, nutritious vegetarian dinner.
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How to Buy and Store Fresh Asparagus
There’s nothing worse than bad asparagus. Ugh and gross.
When purchasing fresh asparagus, look at it from the top down. You’re looking for tightly packed, firm asparagus tips with no signs of wilt or mush. If you brush your fingers across the top, the tips should remain intact. If you see them start to shred or fall apart, move along to another bunch.
Once you’ve found a bunch with crisp buds, look for firm stalks. The stalks shouldn’t be limp or soft. You should be able to bend the asparagus and hear a satisfying “snap” when the woody end breaks off.
Look for stalks of uniform size, not because it’s an indicator of freshness, but for consistency in cooking. Stalks of similar sizes will cook at the same rate, giving you equally tender or equally crisp bites. Thinner asparagus is young and tender, with a milder flavor. Thicker asparagus is more mature, with a meatier more earthy flavor. I like both, but often reach for a thinner bunch for salads for the texture.
I store fresh asparagus standing up in a mason jar filled with water, and then place it in the fridge. Ideally you’ll cook asparagus the same day you purchase it, but it’ll keep well in the fridge like this for a good 48 hours.
How to Cook Black Lentils
Asparagus and carrots are natural companions. Roasting brings out their sweeter side, and those rich flavors are the perfect contrast to earthy black beluga lentils.
Black lentils can be a little hard to find (I can get them at my co-op, Whole Foods, and Mom’s Organic Market, but not at my regular grocery store), but they’re worth seeking out. They’re tiny and very tender, but retain their shape well. Black lentils are both more mild and savory than other varietals, and easily take on the flavors of other herbs, vegetables and seasonings. I find them the perfect lentil for warm or cold salads.
Measure out your lentils, transfer them to a fine mesh sieve, and then give them a rinse under cool running water. Pick out any broken or bruised lentils.
To boost the overall flavor of the prepared lentils, I cook them with onions, garlic, and fresh herbs. Start by sautéing minced sweet onion until it’s barely tender, and then add in a few cloves of minced garlic. Add the black lentils to the pot and give them a good stir with the alliums. Then add your cooking liquid. To keep this vegetarian, use water or vegetable broth. I like bone broth both for nutrition and flavor. Pour in enough cooking liquid to cover the lentils by at least an inch, or a bit more. Then top with fresh thyme and a bay leaf, and bring to a boil.
It’s important to wait to salt your lentils until after they’ve cooked, because science. Salting the uncooked lentils will make them tougher, and they’ll take longer to cook.
After the cooking liquid has come to a boil, reduce the heat to low or medium low to maintain a low, constant simmer, and then cover and allow them to cook for 25-35 minutes, or until they are bite tender. Check the pot occasionally to ensure the lentils stay moist, and add additional cooking liquid if needed.
“Bite tender” is subjective. I like my lentils snappy, but you might prefer them on the softer side. Simply start tasting around the 25 minute mark, and remove the lentils from heat once they texture is right for you.
Once the lentils are cooked, fish out the bay leaf and thyme stem, then strain any residual water. Salt the lentils to preference, and then finish them off with a nice squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
How to Make Black Lentils with Roasted Vegetables
While the lentils are cooking you’ll prepare the roasted vegetables. I love the color, flavor, and texture contrast of carrots and asparagus in this recipe.
Snap the woody ends from the asparagus spears. To do, grab a spear in the center with your left hand, then grasp the woody end with your right. Gently bend the spear until it snaps. Discard the end piece, then slice the spear into bite sized pieces.
Peel the skin from the carrots using a vegetable peeler, then slice lengthwise into fourths. Then chop those long pieces into bite sized chunks.
Toss the carrots and asparagus with olive oil, then dust with salt and cracked black pepper. Asparagus and carrots roast for different lengths of time, so I cook them individually on quarter sheet baking pans. Quarter sheet pans are half the size of “regular” baking sheets, and two fit side-by-side snugly in my oven. Because the carrots take a bit longer, I pop them in first and set the time for 5 minutes. Then I pop in the asparagus and set the timer for 7 minutes. Laying them over parchment paper makes for super easy clean-up.
Roasted veggie perfection!
By the time the vegetables are roasted, the lentils should be just about finished. Transfer the cooked black lentils to a serving bowl, and top with the roasted asparagus and carrots, then throw on a few handfuls of fresh chopped mint and parsley.
Toss it all up, and taste one more time for seasoning. Add a little extra salt, pepper, or lemon juice.
I served these with a dollop of plain greek yogurt, and that sour, fatty garnish is total flavor bliss.
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Black Lentils with Roasted Asparagus and Carrots
Celebrate spring produce with this black lentil recipe! Tender roasted asparagus, caramelized carrots, black lentils, and fresh herbs come together for an easy, protein-packed, and flavorful vegetarian dinner.
- 4 tbsp avocado or olive oil divided
- 1 small sweet onion minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 c black lentils
- 3 c water or broth
- 1/2 lemon juiced (about 1 tbsp)
- 1 lb asparagus trimmed and sliced into bite sized pieces
- 2 medium carrots peeled and diced into bite sized pieces
- 1 tsp sea or kosher salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
- 3 tbsp fresh mint chopped
- 1/4 c greek yogurt optional
Preheat the oven to 425*. Line two quarter sheet baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.
Heat a small saucepan over medium high heat. Add the oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring continuously, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the lentils to the pot and stir to incorporate with the onions and garlic. Add enough cooking liquid to the pot to cover the lentils by about an inch. Top with the bay leaf and thyme spring.
Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat to medium low/low to maintain a steady simmer. Cover and cook until the lentils are bite tender, 25-35 minutes depending on preference (see section above "How to Cook Black Lentils). Check the water level occasionally and add more broth or water if the lentils become too try.
Remove the lentils from heat, and remove the bay leaf and thyme sprig. Drain any residual water from the lentils. Stir in lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Transfer the warm, seasoned lentils to a platter or salad bowl.
While the lentils are cooking, prepare the roasted vegetables. Trim and slice the asparagus and cut into bite sized pieces. Peel and cut the carrots into bite sized pieces.
Toss the carrots with oil, then spread onto one of the parchment lined baking sheets. Dust with salt and pepper. Transfer the carrots to the oven and roast for 5 minutes.
Toss the asparagus with oil, then spread onto the second parchment lined baking sheet. Dust with salt and pepper. Once the timer goes off, add the asparagus to the oven. Roast the carrots and asparagus for 7 additional minutes. The asparagus should be blistered and charred, but still retain a bite. The carrots should be caramelized and tender, but not mushy.
Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven and add them to the black lentils. Sprinkle generously with fresh parsley and mint, then toss to incorporate.
To serve, spoon one quarter of the lentil salad onto a plate, then top with 1-2 tbsp greek yogurt. Serve warm, room temperature, or chilled. This salad keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.