Out to lunch—October 17, 2006

By Joann Chen

As students at the notoriously quirky University of Chicago, we all understand the culture of abnormality. We relish the awkwardness of our student body at least a little, and we get an odd sense of pleasure out of the fact that the rigor of the school could make a graduate return to set our science buildings on fire.

However much we may ridicule the “state school” image, there are a few things that we undeniably share with our counterparts in other institutions. The most prominent of these similarities is our abandonment of healthy eating upon our arrival. In the span of a month or two, first-years here—like first-years around the country—somehow revert to a thoroughly unsatisfactory diet of ramen and PBR.

Although we all appreciate the convenience of a meal consisting of ingredients that have been dehydrated and stuffed in a box, man cannot live on macaroni and cheese alone. I propose a small step toward decent eating with the following recipe: salmon served with lentils.

Salmon is incredibly healthy, and a four-ounce serving contains 85 percent of the suggested daily value of omega-3 fatty acids. This fish is also easy to prepare because of its inherently rich flavor. If you’re in a hurry, you could easily bake the salmon and serve it on a salad.

If you prefer a heartier meal, this recipe is marvelous. The lentils have a full flavor that is supplemented by the slightly sweet shallots. The dressing for the salmon is tart from the lemons and earthy from the mustard, and it mixes well with the deeper flavor of the lentils.

For those not as intrigued by the fancy ingredients, here are a couple substitutions that will not compromise the flavor of the dish. Fresh tarragon, though lovely, is not necessary for the recipe. Dried tarragon works just as well, but just remember to measure out a little less than the 4 teaspoons suggested. Also, if you have an onion hiding in your fridge it could easily replace the shallots, but I do love the slightly different flavor of the shallots.

Appetizing advice: Because there are so many strong flavors in this dish and because the lentils may take a while to prepare, take it easy on the side dishes. Some asparagus steamed with salted water is perfect with this recipe.

Lemon Mustard Salmon with Lentils

1 cup lentils, rinsed

2 1/4 cups water

1/2 + 1/8 + 1/4 teaspoons salt

4 pieces of salmon fillet with skin (about 6 oz. each)

1 + 2 Tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoons coarse ground pepper

1 lemon

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

4 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon

1 teaspoon butter or margarine

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit.

2. Combine lentils, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in saucepan. Boil, then let simmer until lentils are tender (20–30 minutes). (I like to add a little more water and cook the lentils for a little longer because I find them more flavorful when they are soft and moist.) Drain the lentils.

3. Grease a baking dish. Arrange the fillets on the baking dish. Rub a total of 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper on the fillets. Bake until cooked through (about 15–20 minutes).

4. For the dressing: grate 1/2 teaspoon lemon peel and squeeze 2 Tablespoons lemon juice. Whisk together lemon juice, mustard and remaining salt. Whisk in 2 Tablespoons olive oil, and stir in 2 teaspoons tarragon.

5. For lentils: Melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in parsley and remaining 2 teaspoons tarragon.

6. Arrange fillets on top of lentils, dress with lemon mustard dressing, and serve.