This super fresh, hearty salmon salad features crunchy veggies and nutritious lentils to produce a colorful and exciting salad-as-a-meal.
I’ll be honest: when I think of a salad for lunch, it makes me slightly depressed. Yep, even after creating so many exciting, colorful, textured salad recipes, I do sometimes find myself thinking of a lunch salad as a boring bowl of greens that leave me hungry an hour later. Plus, there’s that stigma of salad-as-a-diet-food that still pervades in popular culture—I blame Hollywood for that! When do you see women characters ordering salad at the restaurant in a film? When they’re on a diet or watching their weight, of course—that’s the implied message, whether the film spells it out or not.
Well, I, for one, need more than salad greens to keep myself fueled through the day. So, when I make a salad for lunch, I use greens, of course, but they’re not the main event. I also like to pack in as many bright, colorful, nutritious, good-for-you ingredients as I can. This Fennel, Lentil, and Salmon Salad is probably the perfect illustration of my salad philosophy: in this delightfully textured dish, peppery arugula is combined with fiber-rich red lentils, good-for-you Omega-3-packed salmon, and crunchy fennel and radishes. These ingredients are combined with a super simple, super zingy lemon dressing you’ll instantly want to drizzle on any and every salad.
Helpful Tips for Making this Salmon Salad
Switch up the lentils: Red lentils are the quickest lentils to cook from scratch. They’re tender, and they soak up the flavor of the ingredients they’re combined with. You can cook red lentils in advance and refrigerate them until needed. If you have to shave prep time off this recipe, you can use canned green lentils instead: simply rinse a can of the lentils, then carefully pat them dry with a kitchen towel or paper towels before incorporating them into the salad.
Switch up the salmon, too: Fresh salmon is another ingredient that you can prepare faster than you probably think. In this recipe, I simply pan-sear it on both sides for a few minutes, then let it rest while I assemble the rest of the salad. Ten minutes later, the salad is ready and so is the salmon! If you don’t want to cook the salmon from scratch, you can substitute two cans of boneless, skinless, preferably sustainably caught salmon. Drain the salmon, break it into chunks, and add it to the salad. For a change, you can use hot smoked salmon, which comes in thick, firm fillets. The smoky, slightly sweet flavor of hot smoked salmon adds depth to an already exciting dish.
Make-ahead—yes, you can! Rare are salads you can make ahead of time, but this salmon salad is one of those. You can assemble the salad up to 1 day ahead—dressing and all—and pack it for lunch the next day. To make it will look and taste its best when you make it ahead, use hearty greens such as baby spinach instead of arugula. You can also keep the arugula separate, toss the remaining ingredients with the dressing, and pack the arugula on top of the salad when you store it. This ensures it won’t be weighed down by the dressing and will stay crisp until service.
Keep a jar of that lemon dressing in the fridge at all times: This salad’s dressing couldn’t be simpler or more versatile. Inspired by a classic French vinaigrette, the dressing uses staple ingredients which, once combined, last pretty indefinitely in the fridge. It’s my go-to salad dressing, which is why when I make it, I double or even triple the quantities. Having this quick dressing on hand at all times prevents me from reaching for sodium-heavy store-bought products instead.
For the citrus dressing: In a bowl combine all the ingredients. Close the jar and shake vigorously to combine. Set aside until needed. (The dressing can be made in advance and will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks.)
For the salmon salad: Add the rinsed red lentils to a medium saucepan and cover with 1 inch (2 cm) water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 8 minutes, or until the lentils are al dente. Test the lentils towards the end of the cooking time to make sure they don’t turn overcooked and mushy. (If you accidentally overcook the lentils, don’t throw them away. Drain and let them cool and turn them to hummus. And then cook another batch of lentils for this salad.) Drain the lentils, then rinse under cold running water. Set aside.
In a nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. While the oil heats up, season the flesh side of the salmon fillet with a generous pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Add the salmon fillet, flesh side down, to the hot skillet. Cook for 3 minutes, then flip over and cook for 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate, cover with aluminum foil and let cool for 10 minutes.
Cut off the fennel stalks, reserving some of the fronds for garnishing. (You can save and freeze the stalks and remaining fronds to flavor homemade stock.) Cut the fennel bulb in half, then remove and discard the tougher, outer layer. Very thinly slice each fennel bulb half using a sharp knife or a mandoline. Transfer the sliced fennel to a large salad bowl.
Add the arugula to the salad bowl, then the cooked lentils. Remove the skin from the cooked salmon fillet, then break the fillet into chunks and add to the salad bowl. Drizzle with ¼ cup (60 ml) of the lemon dressing, then gently toss the salad to distribute the dressing. Add the radishes and reserved fennel fronds. Taste and add more dressing, if desired, and adjust seasoning as well. Serve right away.
MAKE-AHEAD TIP: You can make and assemble the salad for up to 1 day in advance, saving the arugula to toss it in the salad just before serving.
Recipe Credit: Inspired by Aran Goyoaga, Cannelle et Vanille.
Instead of cooking red lentils, you can substitute 1 can (14 to 19 oz / 398 to 540 ml) of green lentils, drained, rinsed, and patted dry.
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