Warm Sweet Potato and Lentil Salad with Maple-Mustard Dressing; Packing Lunches for Long Days

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Today is going to be a long day. Snow that’s slowly approaching on the radar may change my schedule for work–a 10 a.m. ceremony is already canceled, so keep your fingers crossed for meetings at noon, 1:30, 3 and 7 p.m., phew!–but either way, my meals are packed and prepped. Covering government meetings makes every other Tuesday challenging. I don’t particularly mind sitting in the board chambers, or listening to local elected officials volley ideas back and forth. There’s always something new to learn, and I feel so very fortunate to be a journalist. [Update: No meetings today!]

But honestly, if I can let you in on a little secret, what most concerns me is what I’m going to eat. With no microwave or refrigerator or even a table, what to pack for a lunch and/or dinner calls for creativity. I typically leave my lunch bag in my car for a few hours too, meaning nothing should be prone to spoilage. Peanut butter and jelly or banana is always a safe choice, but sometimes, I want some more vegetables, more flavor, more variety.

Enter this lentil and sweet potato salad, tossed with a maple-mustard dressing and studded with crisp scallions. It’s a Washington Post recipe from 2010 that my mom makes every so often, and what she served for a simple dinner Thursday after I had a second round of eyelash surgery. (Bizarre, yes, and but not really a rare condition, it turns out.) As the Post’s description says, “the sweet potato balances the earthiness of the lentils, and the maple syrup vinaigrette provides a seasonal complement.” Leftovers are divine for lunches–cold, room temperature or slightly heated. Serve over lettuce, or mix in some slivered spinach, as I did this time. I’d imagine that a few crumbles of cheese could be a nice addition, if you’re into that kind of thing, like goat or feta. Maybe even a poached egg on top? Perhaps additional roasted vegetables could also bump up the quantity.

But just as-is, the salad is a comfort, and a reassuring meal to have tucked into your lunch bag for long, cold, meeting-filled days when the rest of your small town is gallavanting in the snow that you’re not privy to while sitting in a window-less room. A piece of fruit or two, a slice of hearty multi-grain bread, and maybe carrots and hummus as well, and my stomach won’t be as grumbly as I worried. Don’t forget to toss in a few remaining Christmas chocolates in there, too. Happy winter!

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Warm Lentil and Sweet Potato Salad With Maple Vinaigrette
Adapted from The Washington Post

Note: A lack of chives led to a substitution of scallions mixed in the salad, and I did enjoy the little bit they added to the very soft dish. Parsley could be a nice addition, if you have some on hand. I’ve added a handful or two of very thinly sliced spinach this time, because I wanted something green and fresh. Mixing it into the warm ingredients caused it to wilt just the littlest bit. The salad is also nice spooned over mixed lettuce greens. The following ingredients are how they’re written in the Post; this time, I made 1.5 times the lentils and sweet potatoes, and twice the dressing. It’s flexible.

1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes (1 pound)
1 cup green or brown lentils, rinsed and picked clean of any foreign matter
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives, or a few green onions, sliced
Salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Prick each potato several times with a skewer or the tines of a fork, then place in the oven on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Bake for 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the sweet potato’s size and age), until the juices ooze a bit out of the pricked holes and the sweet potato is soft. Let cool for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the lentils: Place them in a 3-to-4-quart pot; add enough water to cover 1 to 2 inches above the lentils. Place the pot over medium heat and cover with the lid ajar. When the water starts to boil, adjust the heat so the water stays at a low boil. Cook for about 25 minutes, until the lentils are tender but not falling apart. Drain.

Shake together the vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, nutmeg, chives (if using) and salt to taste in a jar. Slowly add the oil, then shake to incorporate.

Carefully discard the sweet potato skin(s). Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch chunks; transfer to a large bowl with the lentils, spinach and green onions. Pour on the dressing and gently toss to coat evenly.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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2 thoughts on “Warm Sweet Potato and Lentil Salad with Maple-Mustard Dressing; Packing Lunches for Long Days

  1. ali says:

    I love lentils, Katie, and I love the idea of adding feta or goat cheese…delish! You are busy busy these days. Hope you are staying warm.

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