When I walked past these little black beluga lentils the other day, they put me in mind of caviar. They were just around the corner from some fresh black trumpet mushrooms. And I had a wedge of lush Shepherd’s Hope artisan sheep milk cheese at home. So into my little head popped the idea for a kind of black and white tuxedo salad. With the Oscars on Sunday, it seemed kind of perfect. (For the rest of the year, it’s a nice lunch.)
The salad looks decidedly brown in these photos, especially with the warm glow of an incandescent lamp that was nearby when I was shooting. I read recently that Peter Bagi, professional food photographer and writer of the visually inspiring Closet Chef blog, had spent 20 hours getting just a few shots for his blog, which, I have to admit, made me feel a lot better about my progress in the food photography department. I usually spend about five minutes. I don’t know why I’m so impatient about this process. It’s not easy to make food look good, and I don’t seem to have much passion for setting the stage yet, so to speak. But, I have only been doing this for three months, and I’m going to make a concerted effort to get better at it. (Starting tomorrow.) (And I digress.)
This salad would be nice for the Oscars, especially if you’re having the kind of affair with pretty little printed menus. To transform it into an hors d’oeuvre I would roll out some thin slices of bread and cut small rounds from them using a cookie cutter. Brush them with melted butter and press them into muffin or mini muffin tins and crisp them in the oven until they are golden and toasty, perhaps ten minutes at 350 degrees. I would finely chop the mushrooms before I cooked them and add even more cheese to the salad. Spoon a tablespoon or two of the finished salad into the little timbales, and bake them until the cheese melts—perhaps another ten minutes in a 350 oven. Garnish them with a little morsel of the cheese and perhaps a tiny enoki mushroom, and set out a little hand-lettered or press printed sign on their tray. Then they would be finger-friendly and rather elegant. Or set out a series of Chinese-style spoons and fill them with a mouthful of the salad. I’m not having such a party—I’ll be on the sofa to watch the Oscars this year, just short of a Snuggie in the comfort department, and probably noshing on something more comforting than posh—but if you do and you serve my tuxedo salad, send me a picture in your fancy duds and let me know how it turned out.
Black beluga lentils are available here if you can’t find them in your market.
If you can’t find fresh black trumpet mushrooms, which seem to be rarer, I would use fresh enoki mushrooms, which are lily white in keeping with the tuxedo idea, and are more readily available. If your market does not carry them and you live in or near a city, try an Asian market.
Shepherd’s Hope Cheese is made in Nerstrand, Minnesota by the Read family. If you can’t find it, substitute any creamy sheep milk cheese you like, or a creamy goat cheese. Read my piece about Shepherd’s Way Farms here.
This salad seems rather plain, perhaps, but the butter from the mushrooms flavors the lentils along with the mushrooms and the creamy cheese. Yum.
Tuxedo Salad: Black Beluga Lentils, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, & Creamy White Shepherds’ Way Farms’ Shepherd’s Hope Cheese
Yield: two luncheon-sized servings, or four small servings as a side, or enough for about two dozen timbales or spoonfuls as an hors d’oeuvre
1 c. black beluga lentils
8 ounces fresh black trumpet mushrooms
2 T. butter
salt and pepper
2 ounces Shepherd’s Hope cheese, or other artisan sheep milk cheese
- Place the lentils and 2 ½ c. water into a small saucepan, cover it, and bring it to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are just tender, about 15 minutes.
- Drain the lentils and season them with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.
- When it is sizzling, add the mushrooms and season them with salt and pepper.
- Sauté them until they are a little crisp, about ten minutes.
- Toss the mushrooms and butter into the lentils.
- Break off little wedges of the cheese and toss them into the salad.
- Taste the salad and adjust the seasoning if necessary.