Lentil, Feta & Pecan Salad or how to organize a tasty salad.

Countrykitchenchaos is about cooking and baking good, simple food. “CKC” is as much about dealing with time and organizational problems. As a person with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), I know how these problems can create chaos and stress in the kitchen. Anyone can learn how to work effectively in the kitchen. I used to be an armchair cook; I read cookbooks and culinary magazines, but I seldom cooked. I was intimidated by the myriad steps in the cooking process.  Learning how to be organized has helped turn me into a relaxed and focused cook.

Are you one of those cooks who never use a written recipe?  You look in the fridge, pantry or – if you are lucky – your own vegetable garden and use what your freshly grown ingredients. I do that sometimes and it is how I come up with my own recipes.  Other times I use recipes. After all, they have been developed and tested (hopefully), and the percentage of success can be quite high! Recipes can help you find inspiration instead of making the same dish over and over again.

I have a huge cookbook collection and will read through the entire book, savoring each recipe and culinary photo.  I also use the internet to search for recipes. If I make it and like it, I save it. But, here’s the rub: have you ever had trouble reading or following a recipe?  Following a recipe can be a daunting process for myself. And, if that recipe is on my iPhone, it’s small and hard to see. I usually can not read a recipe through and memorize all ingredients and steps. If the cooking steps are lumped together in big paragraphs, I might miss a step. I might also confuse the steps, especially in baking. Since baking is a science, such confusion is a big problem!!

So, what do I do when I cook from a recipe. First, I read it through to see if I want to make it.  I imagine the steps and methods required to make it.  If I choose to make it, I annotate the recipe, separate the steps so they are easier to follow. If it’s a baking recipe, I will make a bracket to denote ingredients that are mixed as a sequence of steps. The bracket method also helps me remember the ingredients and steps better. Sometimes, I insert numbers in the directions, when a new step begins. This helps a lot when the directions are lumped together.

I also figure out what kind of equipment I need (including items that are not mentioned in the recipe) and I write them down on my recipe notes page.  The recipe may tell you to use a bowl, but it works better if you know what size bowl you need. I take out the equipment and set it up in my work area. Then I don’t have to look for equipment when I’m in the middle of a step.

Here’s another helpful tip: it’s a must to check and see if I have the ingredients on hand. Keep a place handy for your shopping list.  In these technical days, I like to keep my shopping list in my iPhone. You might even keep an inventory of ingredients on hand, but that’s an entire project, so I tend to keep ingredients grouped by what kind of recipes I use them in.  For example, I group sweet and savory spices separately. I keep my flours together, my grains together, my cheeses together, etc., etc.

Today I am going to share a recipe that I especially like, Lentil Feta Pecan Salad. It is a great combination of ingredients and it is also gluten-free. Yes, I am also gluten intolerant!! I made the lentil salad to take to a retirement party.  When I’m ready to cook, I line up the ingredients in the order I will use them. Did you ever think there was so much to do with getting ready to cook.  But, it takes the pressure off the cooking process when you prep thoroughly. I don’t always take the time and then I regret it. And, much of successful cooking is in the organization and preparation.  Of course, good ingredients are also  a must for the best tasting food.  I’ll be posting more on organization and methods, but let’s get down to the business of cooking.

LENTIL FETA AND PECAN SALAD (inspired by In A Vermont Cookbook, by Amy Lyon & Lynne Andreen)

Serves 10 – 12

Ingredients
1 LB. Package French lentils
4 Quarts water
1 Cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 LB. Feta Cheese
5 Scallions, chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh, flat parsley.
1 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 Cup white wine vinegar
2 Cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper.

Directions
1) Rinse the lentils in a colander.
2) Add the lentils to boiling water and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. Pour into the colander and rinse. Let cool.
3) Place the cooled lentils in a serving bowl. Add the pecans, feta cheese and scallions.
4) Make the salad dressing in a small bowl. Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour half the dressing over the lentil mixture. Use a large spoon to mix together. Add the additional dressing as necessary to make it well coated. Garnish with parsley sprigs.IMG_0445