This warm marinated lentil salad with feta cheese is an easy vegetarian entree or side that combines black or green lentils with a spiced nut vinaigrette, raisins, fresh basil, and slabs of feta cheese. If you are following a vegan diet, simply omit the feta.
Adapted by Molly Baz | Cook This Book | Clarkson Potter, 2021
I’ve got a lotta love for lentils. Any food that tastes great straight on day one and only tastes better as it sits and marinates over a few days is a good food to me. Once you know how to properly cook lentils—like pasta, in a pot of heavily salted water—you’ve got one of the greatest canvases upon which to express your creativity. Lentils soak up flavors like sponges, so I encourage you to use this recipe as a jumping-off point but not as dogma. Gently heating the oil with lots of aromatics when making the spiced nut vinaigrette will amplify all their flavors and carry them effortlessly into the lentils once things all get tossed together. This recipe calls for black or green lentils, both of which tend to hold their shape well when cooked, thus making them perfect for salads.–Molly Baz
Marinated Lentil Salad FAQs
What is the difference between cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and sheep’s milk feta cheese?
Feta can vary in flavor and texture, depending on what type of milk is used and where the feta is made. Sheep’s milk feta is the classic option and tends to be the sharpest, while goat’s and cow’s milk versions are milder. Bulgarian Feta is the saltiest type of feta, with a firm yet creamy texture. French Feta is mild and creamy, less briny than the others, and tends to be a bit softer. The most common feta you’ll see is Greek feta. It’s the most flavorful— briny, tangy, and sharp—and the fine texture makes it perfect to crumble in salads, sprinkle on soups, or toss into your favorite pasta.
What is the best type of lentils to use for a warm lentil salad?
For this easy lentil salad, you want to use a firm lentil that doesn’t turn mushy when cooked. Avoid red lentils here and seek out the small green lentils (French lentils) or the tiny black beluga lentils.
What are beluga lentils?
Beluga lentils are tiny, dark, and dense, black lentils. They’re called Beluga lentils because they closely resemble Beluga caviar. Like all lentils, they’re budget-friendly, packed with protein, easy to cook, and delicious. Unlike some lentils that get mushy when cooked, belugas maintain their shape and al dente texture during the cooking process.
Marinated Lentil Salad
For the lentils
- Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups (10.5 oz) black beluga lentils or French green lentils (lentilles du Puy)
For the spiced nut vinaigrette
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup (4 oz) raw walnuts almonds, or pecans, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1/3 cup (2 oz) golden raisins
- 1/3 cup red or white wine vinegar
- Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- One (4-ounce) block feta cheese thinly sliced into large 1/4-inch thick (6-mm) planks
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil
Cook the lentils
- Bring a medium saucepan filled with 2 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil.
- Add the lentils, give them a good stir, and return the water to a simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a simmer while they cook. Simmer until they are cooked through and no longer toothsome, but not mushy, 15 to 35 minutes depending on what type of lentils you have and how old they are. Taste them periodically to evaluate their doneness before draining them.
- Drain the lentils in a fine-mesh strainer and let them cool in the strainer while you prepare the vinaigrette. Reserve the saucepan.
Make the spiced nut vinaigrette
- In the reserved saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the olive oil and chopped walnuts, swirling the pan often so that they cook evenly, until golden brown, 4 to 8 minutes. (Keep an eye on them, as they can turn from toasty to burnt pretty quickly.) Remove from the heat.
- Next, add the cumin seeds and ground coriander to the saucepan and stir to combine. Using a Microplane, immediately grate the garlic cloves into the still-hot oil and stir to combine. Stir in golden raisins, vinegar, and 1 teaspoon salt.
- Add the drained lentils back to the medium saucepan with the walnut mixture and gently stir everything to combine.
- Tear the basil leaves in half, or into small pieces if large, and toss them through the lentils. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
- Divvy the lentils among 6 serving bowls. Top each with a few feta planks and black pepper and drizzle with more olive oil.
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What should I serve with marinated lentil salad?
This warm lentil salad is a complete light vegetarian meal, however, to make it heartier, feel free to serve some grilled chicken or fish alongside, or tuck the salad into a warm pita and top with a dollop of hummus.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The vinegar and lentils play off of each other here well, and the spices, though they may seem extreme (a whole tablespoon of cumin seeds is a lot), really round the dish out. Think of this as a punchy green lentil salad with great flavor, high nutritional content, and excellent staying power – it makes for excellent leftovers and tastes great cold. Increasing the basil, or adding a spicier green, like mizuna, can give it a more salad-like appearance.
The feta planks are nice for presentation, but awkward for eating, and could easily be subbed with crumbled feta instead. I used red wine vinegar and pecans instead of walnuts, and both were delicious.
Lentils have an earthy, nutty flavor, which is heightened by the well-seasoned dressing, feta cheese and basil. Prior to making this dish I’ve only cooked with brown lentils I was glad to discover the black beluga lentil, which have a nice texture.
Marinated lentil salad is one of my go-to recipes for lunch and taking to work, and this one is a solid pick. I used almonds and I liked the crunch that they added; the cumin and coriander were sufficiently subtle. I don’t care for the sweetness of raisins so I used dried cranberries and they gave the perfect note of tartness. There was no basil in the market so I used spinach. I served this in a large bowl to pass so I cubed the feta, I’ll just add more next time! This is a nice easy lentil salad with contrasting flavors and textures, and it is just as good the next day.
Easy, flavorful and delicious! This easy lentil salad with feta cheese were a hit for me. I used black beluga lentils, red wine vinegar, and walnuts, as I already had them on hand, and loved the way that all of the flavors of this dish melded together. It may seem like a TON of basil, but it was just one 2.5 oz clamshell of basil and was perfect in the finished product.
While I loved the big plank of feta, my partner preferred to break his up into small pieces. Overall, this was a super simple preparation of a healthy food – I loved that most of the prep could take place while the lentils were cooking. This was great for a fairly simple weekday meal!
This warm lentil salad with feta recipe ended up firing on all cylinders for me. Every mouthful had a fun interplay of sweet, savory, earthy and salty. It comes together quickly and as the author suggests in the headnotes, is a fantastic template open to interpretation and variation. My finished dish had a little less of the spiced nut vinaigrette than pictured because my sultanas absorbed a lot of it (I made it while the lentils cooked), but a little drizzle of fresh olive oil over each serving helped rectify this. I could easily see a version of this where the feta is omitted and it’s topped with chili crisp and a sunny side up egg.
I used French green lentils, red wine vinegar and walnuts when I made this. It’s worth noting that you should use the best feta you can find for this, particularly the kind that comes in brine that you have to rinse first. It makes all the difference.
The feta in this recipe can be considered optional–assuming you use a good olive oil–because the tangy, umami notes echo what the feta offers. But hey, I’m not one to turn down feta! Just noting that this is a perfectly tasty vegan recipe without it. I consider this a complete meal!
Without being too dramatic, I think this recipe for marinated lentil salad with feta cheese was simply brilliant! A relatively straightforward recipe with easily found ingredients which, when combined, produced a ton of interesting savory/slightly sweet flavors. You simply can’t go wrong when French green lentils are soaked in a warm spiced nut vinaigrette, perfectly spiced by cumin seeds, coriander, and garlic, and then finished with red wine vinegar, pecans, yellow raisins and feta.
I first enjoyed this warm lentil salad topped with a piece of pan-seared Moroccan salmon (minus the salad), which was a wonderful combination. Thankfully, it didn’t end there as the flavors only improved over time which allowed me to devour them again as a “simple salad” (i.e., right out of the bowl from the refrigerator!!) and finally served them as an accompaniment to a simple piece of grilled cod. Truly, a special and versatile, one of a kind dish! Don’t pass it up!
I love Puy lentils and this was such an interesting combination of flavors and textures, I just had to make this easy lentil salad. I’m very happy I did. And I’ll make it again, too!
Originally published May 6, 2022
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
My family and I really enjoyed this recipe for marinated lentil salad with feta cheese! I’m always looking for hearty, delicious vegetarian recipes that taste good for multiple days (always prioritizing those leftovers!), and these lentils did not disappoint. In fact, they tasted even better a few days after I made them.
The spiced nut vinaigrette alone is such a winner! I used pecans and white wine vinegar and will make this again in the future to use with all kinds of different salads. Overall I loved how straightforward this green lentil salad recipe was while still delivering a complex, balanced flavor and fun textures.
Next time I will add a little more salt and some more golden raisins, since I really liked how their sweetness paired with the richness, earthiness, and acidity of the rest of the dish.