This rice salad boasts some unique flavors in the form of beluga lentils, pistachio and an orange vinaigrette!
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When I’m out checking out the newest restaurants here in Chicago I always keep an eye out for unique menu items I might want to try. I get a lot of my inspiration from dishes I’ve had in restaurants. It’s a fun way to discover new flavor combos and even more fun to come home and try to recreate them!
There is a great Mediterranean restaurant here in Chicago called Ēma. They serve everything as small plates so it’s great for groups. We go often because the food is so good and they have some great options for my vegan friends.
During one Friday happy hour outings this summer we decided to order a basmati rice salad that we had never tried before. It is a combo of basmati rice, beluga lentils, tomatoes, pistachios and crispy shallots. So yummy!!
Before I even got home I wrote down thoughts about how to recreate it. The only thing that I wasn’t sure about was the dressing – I knew it was citrus but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So two trips back to the restaurant and a few questions for staff and I had my answer. It was an orange vinaigrette, which goes great with the other flavors in this salad!
What’s the story with beluga lentils?
Before ordering this salad I’d actually never heard of beluga lentils so I’m guessing you might also be asking – what are beluga lentils?
They are very small, black round lentils and are named beluga for the caviar that they resemble. They don’t become soft and mushy like some other lentils so they work very well in salads and other things you might refrigerate for a bit. Like other lentils, they are high in protein and easy to cook. You may be able to find beluga lentils at your local grocery store, however, it’s easiest just to order them from Amazon.
Since I focus on small batch recipes and my goal is to make cooking accessible not complicated, I also like to give you ideas for using up unusual ingredients you might need to purchase for the recipe. No one wants to go get a bag of beluga lentils and have them go to waste!
If you want to try a few other beluga lentil recipes with the leftover lentils check out this Black Lentil Dal from Smitten Kitchen, this Greek Lentil Salad from Cookie & Kate or this Sauteed Beluga Lentils and Butternut Squash from Sprouted Kitchen.
Cheese or No Cheese? The option to make it vegan.
he original dish included Mizithra cheese which is a sharp cheese that has its origins in Greece. I did a little research and discovered it’s pretty hard to come by unless you happen to have a Greek market in town so I decided to come up with a substitute. After a more research and a little trial and error, I decided on feta. Parmesan might have been a more likely choice since the Mizithra was aged on the original salad, but I liked the taste and texture that the soft feta gave it better, so I went with it instead.
If you leave the cheese off, this rice salad is naturally vegan giving you an option if you happen to be feeding someone on a dairy-free diet!
You might have noticed I’ve been publishing a few recipes that have the option to make them vegan. I happen to have two close friends who are vegan and when they come over or are out sailing with me, I like to make sure they have lots of food options too. While there are obviously limitations, when it’s possible and easy, like leaving the cheese on the side for this one, I’ll note how to make it vegan. I’m guessing many of you foodies have at least one friend who is vegan.
If you looking for other recipes with an easy vegan option check out this Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad
Additional Notes from the Kitchen
- If you have the option, fresh grape or cherry tomatoes from your garden or the farmer’s market will give you the best flavor. Fresh, sweet grape tomatoes from the grocery store will also work just fine!
- Depending on where you get your beluga lentils, the package may say to rinse them and pick out any “debris” – I don’t usually bother with rinsing them unless they look like they really need it. I do pick out any obvious debris, though you’ll likely find a few broken lentils that you can just leave in the mix.
- I prefer to buy pistachios that are already out of the shell when I’m using them in a dish. While they are a bit more expensive it’s much quicker than sitting there shelling them.
- While I don’t fry often, the crispy shallots that top this salad really do need to be fried to get the right texture. It’s worth a few extra calories and a little mess to make these, as they are the perfect flavor addition for this dish.
things you may want for this recipe
Beluga Lentils – You can check your local grocery store but I find it easier to just order them from Amazon. A bag this size should last you for quite a while and they will keep in a cool dry place like a kitchen cabinet away from your stove/oven.
Handheld Citrus Juicer – I consider this handheld juicer an essential kitchen tool. Freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice are so much better than buying it in the store and if you have an easy to use juicer you can just keep lemons and limes and hand and juice them as needed.
Beluga Lentil and Basmati Rice Salad
For the salad:
- ¼ cup beluga lentils
- ½ cup basmati rice
- 1 ¼ cups water, divided
- pinch of salt
- ½ cup grape tomatoes, halved
- ⅓ cup diced English cucumber
- ¼ cup shelled pistachios
- ¼ cup feta cheese
- ½ tsp orange zest
- ¾ cup shallots, thinly sliced into rings
- 2 tbsp flour
- ¼ cup avocado or olive oil
For the vinaigrette:
- 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
- ½ tbsp champagne vinegar
- ½ tsp orange zest
- ½ tsp honey
- ½ tsp finely minced shallot
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Cook the lentils. Pick any debris out of the lentils then add lentils and ½ cup water to small saucepan, preferably one with a glass lid. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 25 minutes or until lentils are tender and water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
- Cook the rice. Add rice, ¾ cup water and salt to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10-12 minutes until water is absorbed. Transfer rice to a medium mixing bowl.
- Make the vinaigrette. While the lentils are looking mix the orange juice, vinegar, honey, minced shallot and orange zest in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil until well combined. Set aside.
- Fry the shallots. Toss the shallots and in the flour to coat. Heat ¼ cup oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots to the pan and spread into a single layer. Cook for 3 minutes until they begin to turn golden brown. Carefully flip using a pair of tongs and continue to cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from pan and drain on a plate lined with a paper towel.
- Assemble the salad. Add the lentils, tomatoes and cucumber to the bowl with the rice. Mix well. Add the pistachios, feta, orange zest and dressing. Toss to coat everything. Divide between 2-3 serving bowls and top with crispy shallots just before serving.