Executive Chef LJ Klink, CEC, CCA, ACE, and winner of Food Network’s Extreme Chef
Lentils (boiled) // 1 cup = 18 g protein
“When I started out in fine dining, I utilized lentils in maybe two or three capacities—and that’s a shame because I really missed the boat,” Chef LJ Klink espoused. “I had vegetarian options, I had vegan options, but I didn’t use lentils in either of them.”
That changed when Klink began working to promote school nutrition, keeping in mind federal regulations—and also working with a budget that allotted $1.09 on national average per child at lunchtime. “For example,” Klink says, “when we talk about sustainability, we can also talk about fiscal sustainability. With school food, we have about a buck o-nine on national average that we can put on that plate. I used to complain that I had to stay between 10 and 12 dollars my cost on a plate! It’s challenging to do a dollar o-nine and still get the value of nutrients required, meet the other requirements, make the kiddos happy—and make the bookkeepers happy as well.
“Lentils provide lean, plant-based protein and are sustainable. This is something that takes less water to grow than it takes to sustain a chicken, or a cow, or a pig,” he says. Also, it takes 43 gallons of water to produce one pound of lentils versus 1,857 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. And cost? Seven cents per serving versus $1.07 for beef.
For Klink’s Balsamic Lentil Salad with a “beautiful balsamic vinaigrette,” he offers a variety of versatile serving ideas. “You can pick up the salad cup and just eat it as a lettuce wrap. You can put the whole thing onto a salad bar; you can chiffonade the butter leaf and put the rest on as a complement.”
We have the opportunity, Klink says, to use an ancient food that is wonderful for our bodies. Why wouldn’t we want to do such an awesome thing?
Balsamic lentil salad
in a butter lettuce cup
Yield: 6 to 8
1 lb (cooked weight) lentils, frozen or dry
½ cup red bell pepper, small dice
1-1/2 cups carrot, brunoise cut
1-1/2 cups yellow pear tomato, halved
1 cup fresh spinach
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 Tbsp Kalamata olives, thinly sliced lengthwise
1–2 heads Boston bibb/butter lettuce (for 6 to 8 serving cups)
8 oz balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp green onions, minced
1–2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp oregano, freshly chopped
½ cup honey
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
4 oz olive oil
1. If using frozen lentils, steep in boiling water until thawed. If using dry lentils, cook 1-3/4 pounds of dry lentils until tender, then remove from heat and allow to cool.
2. In a large bowl, mix mustard, minced green onions, garlic and honey. While blending on high speed, slowly pour in olive oil. Blend in bucket until emulsification occurs with emersion blender or a food processor. Add pepper and salt; stir.
3. Mix vegetables with the cold lentils in a large bowl. Pour over dressing and fold into ingredients until well-mixed.
4. Salad is best if made and tossed 24 hours in advance of service, and refrigerated at 41 degrees or lower for ingredients to marry. Lentils and dressing should be allowed to marinate for at least two hours before service. Mix in the feta cheese at service.
5. Dressing can be stored up to 10 days in the cooler. Follow HACCAP Plan as directed by your health regulation and always label with name and date.