It recently occurred to me that I’ve been blogging for 12 years. Not consistently, but still, over a decade is weirdly difficult to wrap my head around. 12 years is a long time. I was one of those people who grew up with their hearts on display on Xanga before hiding all the posts in a bid for a fresh start. Wonders of wonders, Xanga still exists today, and they created downloadable blog archives for existing users. And so it was I managed to save what amounts to a public record of my past self – this girl so self-conscious and in the process of becoming, or trying to become something – who knows what – and so full of frustration, clinging on to sadness because everything else felt less real.
It’s funny how you grow up on the internet. If you were to ask me what shaped my writing I’d point to food writing, and specifically, food blogs. I spent a good deal of time over the last 12 years reading about food on the internet. Reading about how people made delicious food in their faraway kitchens may have saved my life at some point. This brings me to one of the recipes that has stayed with me for all these years: a warm, French-style lentil salad via Orangette.
I did not make this salad until I went away to university, but I remember when it first appeared on her blog way back in 2007. For some people, the words ‘warm’ and ‘salad’ have no business being next to each other. Nevertheless, it was one of those recipes that I knew would be absolutely delicious. I had never tasted a green lentil, nor did I have a special yen for them, but this is the power of good food writing: it makes you want to try stuff you didn’t care a whit for before. French! Green! Lentils! A few years later Paris would disappoint me by being expensive and unfriendly, but at this point I couldn’t have cared less. All I wanted was to be in a bougie cafe along the Seine scraping lentils off my plate.
The same goes for the rest of her posts. Orangette feels warm and elegant. Reading her blog is like slurping hot soup with close friends, no conversation necessary. There were some particularly lonely, miserable days in high school I would spend hours just reading through the archives, about all these dishes I didn’t have the ingredients for – perhaps subconsciously studying, over and over again, how to talk about food. It’s all a little roundabout, but what I am trying to say is: if I am a better writer now, it is in no small part because of her writing.
Onward to the salad. Growing older brings aches and pains (yes I know I’m only 24 but trust me on this) but also more control over what you eat. I’m still coming to terms with all that sadness my past self felt, but I get to be here now with this bowl of lentil salad. It’s a pretty great outcome, all things considering. One of the most delightful food experiences you can have is crunchy Maldon sea salt stirred into a spoonful of warm lentils subtly spiked with Dijon grain mustard and red wine. It’s also affordable, which is why I’m not talking about raw wagyu wrapped around sea urchin. Lentils are like, salt of the earth stuff.
Her recipe is already perfectly delicious as it is, and I would suggest making it that way at least once or twice. Then, when you’ve started to ease into it, take ownership. You could, for instance, slice up bacon that needs eating. Render it till it’s crispy, and use the grease to soften your mirepoix. Realise that you’ve run out of olive oil, and whisk in a few dollops of warmed chicken fat into the vinaigrette instead. Tip in some wine out of that bottle of Merlot your housemate never finished from three weeks ago, since it’s already turning to vinegar in the fridge, and who has red wine vinegar in their Japanese pantry anyway? Be a little generous with it, since chicken fat is kinda rich. Make sure you’ve got a few chicken wings getting all cozy and crispy in your toaster oven, because you’re going to want those pan juices dripping into your salad. And I use Dijon grain mustard for the dressing, which is honest-to-goodness non-negotiable.
This, too: imagine these lentils on a peppery leaf salad, maybe with avocado cubes stirred in and you’ve got a fabulous brown-bag lunch. Have more parsley than you think you’ll need, because you can never have too many herbs. And you just have to put an egg on it. I know everybody’s uncle puts an egg on every damn thing these days, but liquid yolk oozing into the lentils is what the word ‘va-va-voom’ was invented for.
All of which is to say, please, hop on over to Molly’s blog and make this salad post-haste. It’s been a rough year, but not having made this lentil salad won’t be on my list of regrets for 2015.
Happy New Year, folks. I’ll see you in 2016.