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Eric Akis: Prawns and tangy goat cheese top filling lentil salad

This filling main-course dish sees a mix of lettuces topped with a nutritious lentil salad, sautéed prawns and tangy nuggets of goat cheese.
Mixed greens topped with a flavourful lentil mixture, prawns and tangy goat cheese. ERIC AKIS

My late father was in the military, and when I was a child, he was stationed at CFB Moose Jaw.

The base is located south of the city of Moose Jaw and the area where families like ours lived was a fun place to grow up.

The vast fields and river valley around and near the base was my brother’s and my playground and we spent much of our time outdoors. Family trips to other parts of Saskatchewan inspired my lifelong fondness for that province’s wide-open spaces and never-ending sky.

I’ve lived in Victoria a long time and love it here, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized you can take the boy out of the prairie, but you can’t take the prairie out of the boy.

It’s for that reason that almost every year, for the last number of years, I make a sojourn to Saskatchewan. Last week, I visited parts of south-central Saskatchewan like the Muddy Valley, and small towns such as Assiniboia, Rockglen, Gravelbourg and Willow Bunch.

Agriculture, of course, is a big part of Saskatchewan’s economy, and as I toured around, recently sown fields of various crops were coming to life.

In the parts of the province I visited — in what’s known as the brown and dark brown soil zones — one of those crops, lentils, was off to a good start.

Lentils were first grown in Saskatchewan in 1970. Thanks to strong domestic and global demand for the legume, including from countries such as India, boatfuls of them are now being grown.

Data from 2020 show that lentil farmers in Saskatchewan seeded 1.6 million hectares and produced about 2.61 million tonnes of lentils, about 95 per cent of all the lentils grown in Canada.

Several varieties of lentils are grown in Saskatchewan, but red and green lentils, the type you’ll see for sale at most grocery stores, are the most common.

Lentils appeal to many folks around the world because they are nutritious — a source of protein, folic acid, fibre, potassium, iron and other good things — while being low in calories and fat and helping to lower bad cholesterol.

You can also prepare lentils in all sorts of ways, using them in soups, stewed dishes, casseroles, vegetarian burger patties and curries.

When I got home from Saskatchewan, it was a warm sunny day and I was inspired to use the dried green lentils I had in my pantry in a main-course salad.

To make it, I simmered lentils until they were tender, drained and cooled them, then mixed them with olive oil, citrus juice, spices and a mix of vegetables.

Dinner plates were then lined with lettuce and topped with the lentil mixture, some seared, cooled prawns and nuggets of goat cheese, creating a filling and flavourful salad.

You could use B.C. spot prawn tails in the salad, if available, or any other wild prawn.

My recipe for the salad serves two, but could be doubled or further expanded, if you’re feeding a larger group.

Mixed Greens with Lentil Salad and Prawns

This filling main-course dish sees a mix of lettuces topped with a nutritious lentil salad, sautéed prawns and tangy nuggets of goat cheese.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: about 25 minutes

Makes: two servings

1/2 cup dried green lentils (see Eric’s options)

3 Tbsp olive oil, plus some for drizzling, if needed (divided)

12 to 16 wild prawns, peeled with tip of tail left intact, and deveined

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano or basil, or either of each dried, to taste

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp orange juice

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp smoked or regular paprika

• pinch red pepper flakes

1 medium garlic clove, minced, or 1/8 tsp garlic powder

12 thin slices English cucumber, each halved

10 cherry tomatoes, each quartered

1/3 cup finely chopped yellow or orange bell pepper

1 green onion, thinly sliced

4 to 6 cups mixed baby salad greens

50 grams (about 1/2 cup) soft goat cheese, pulled into small nuggets (see Eric’s options)

• lemon slices and oregano or basil sprigs, for garnish (optional)

Wash the lentils in cold water, and then drain well. Discard discoloured or damaged lentils. Place lentils in a pot and cover with four cups of fresh cold water. Bring lentils to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat.

Lower the heat, as needed, to maintain that gentle simmer, then simmer lentils until just tender, about 20 minutes. When the lentils are tender, set a fine meshed colander in a sink. Pour the lentils into the colander, rinse them lightly with cold water, then let excess liquid drain away. Put the drained, cooked lentils in a mixing bowl and cool to room temperature.

When the lentils have cooled, add 2 Tbsp olive oil, juices, cumin, paprika, pepper flakes and garlic to the bowl, season with salt and pepper, then toss to combine. Add the cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers and green onion to the bowl, then toss again. Cover and refrigerate the lentil salad until ready to serve — it can be made a few hours before needed.

When ready to serve, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large non-stick skillet set over medium-high heat. Season the prawns with salt and pepper, then sear them 45 to 60 seconds per side, or until just cooked through. Transfer the prawns to plate.

Now divide and arrange salad greens on each of two dinner plates. Top the greens on each plate with some of the lentil salad, prawns and goat cheese. Garnish each plate with lemon slices and oregano (or basil) sprigs, if using, and serve, with olive oil for drizzling on each salad at the table, if desired.

Note: If you need to devein the prawns after peeling them, use a small paring knife to make a lengthwise slit along each prawn’s back. Now pull out, or rinse out with cold water, the dark vein. Pat the prawns dry and they are ready to use.

Eric’s options: If you would prefer to use canned lentils, one (14 oz./398 mL) can of lentils, drained, rinsed and drained again, could replace the dried, cooked lentils called for in this recipe. Instead of goat cheese, use cubes or crumbled pieces of feta cheese on the salad.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.