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Since I’m trying to get back into the swing of cooking, despite still not having as much time for it as I’d like, tonight’s experimental dinner was particularly gratifying. When I got home, all I had decided was that I wanted to do something with lentils, but by the time I was finished adding components, I had a dinner that was easy, quick, nutritious, and most importantly, really delicious. The richness of the lentils and the avocado, the crunch of the cucumber and green onion, the sweetness of the tomatoes, the tang of the lemon, and the sharpness of the spices and cilantro all combined beautifully into a simple but flavorful southwest-ish whole. In addition to making a very satisfactory dinner, I think this will be a great addition to the summer barbecue season.

Southwestern Lentil Salad
Serves 4 as a main dish, and at least six as a side dish

1 cup black lentils
2 garlic cloves
1/2 an English cucumber, diced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of one large lemon
Salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, diced

Place the lentils and garlic in a small saucepan, and cover generously with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer vigorously until the lentils are tender, but not mushy.

In the meantime, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, scallions, oil, lemon juice, paprika, cumin, and salt and pepper in a large bowl, and leave to marinate until the lentils are cooked. Once the lentils are ready, drain thoroughly and add to the bowl, tossing to combine. Taste and correct the seasonings as necessary, then add the diced avocado, stirring gently to avoid mashing it.

Notes: You could use any kind of lentil here, but I favor the black or green varieties over ordinary brown lentils when I’m making salads, because they keep their shape much better. If you would like to make it ahead, it should keep very well in the refrigerator for quite some time, but I would not add the avocado until the last minute, since it begins to brown very quickly after being cut open.