Pickle some pearl onions with the caramel, sticky goodness of Medjool dates, and you’ll have yourself a mouthful of big flavours. Stir through with the nutty and peppery puy lentils to give you a puy lentil salad worth coming back for
Why You’ll Love This Puy Lentil Salad
Puy lentils remain one of my favourite pulses to consume. Whilst it does have a lovely nutty and earthy flavour, they do need to be accompanied by some punchy flavours.
I was at the grocer’s the other day and they just got in a batch of the best-looking pearl onions. Every little one looked so round and perfect that I knew I just had to pickle them.
There is no better way to sweeten them than to caramelise them with sweet Medjool dates as they cook slowly together, marrying the sweet and sour flavours.
This is an easy vegetarian salad recipe. In my house, it was smashed within minutes and even before the mains were touched! Another shining example of how a salad can outdo the main fare.
What are Puy Lentils?
Puy lentils are also known as French lentils, and they are a variety of green lentils. They are known as puy lentils because it is grown in Le Puy-en-Velay, in France.
These French puy lentils have a slightly darker hue than the regular green lentils and are smaller in size. About ⅓ the size of a green lentil to be more accurate.
Compared to all the other lentils on the market, puy lentils are known as the best variety. They have a delicate, earthy, nutty and peppery flavour. The flavour is known to be slightly different as the Puy region is known for its volcanic soil.
They take the longest to cook, but they hold their shape the best and don’t turn into mush easily. Hence, they are very popular for side dishes, soups and easy vegetarian salad recipes. It does also mean they are the most expensive lentil variety.
Nutritional Benefits of Lentils
Lentils are one of the most nutritious plant-based proteins available to us. They are cousins to beans and peas and possess some great nutritional value. They are rich in antioxidants, magnesium, iron, fibre, calcium and iron. They are also low in fat.
How to Cook Dried Puy Lentils
Dry puy lentils keep well and can be stored in the pantry for up to a year. Rinse the puy lentils and place in a saucepan of boiling water with 3 times the amount of water. Bring down to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes.
Pour through a colander to remove any excess water so your puy lentil salad doesn’t get overly soggy and wet.
What are Medjool Dates?
How good are dates? That sweet, sticky flesh that’s almost too sickly when you’ve had too many. Yet you’re simply not able to tear yourself away from those moreish fruits.
There are many different types of dates such as Halawy, Maktoum, Zahidi, Anbara, Barkawi and Marbroom but the most popular dates people consume is the Medjool date.
Medjool dates come from the date palm tree and are native to Morocco. Dates flourish in warm regions, with most of the dates in the world coming from North Africa, the Middle East and the United States.
Medjool dates are usually sold dried but not dehydrated. Unlike other dried fruit, Medjool dates are still very soft in texture.
One bite into the amber flesh, and you’re immediately bombarded by a sweet caramel flavour with hints of cinnamon and honey. The dried version is much sweeter as the sugars become more concentrated.
Medjool dates are also known as the “king of dates” as it was once reserved for Moroccan royalty and their guests.
They were very precious back then and although they are so much more readily available nowadays, Medjool dates are still expensive. This is because growing them is a complex process and remains a labour intensive process.
Flavour/Texture: This salad is sweet, tart, earthy and nutty. It has big flavours and definitely doesn’t sit well just being in the background on your dinner table.
The cooked puy lentils are firm yet tender. The caramelised pearl onions are softened tremendously through the cooking process with a slightly sticky finish as the dates disintegrate in the pickling process. Eat it all together to get all the different flavours and textures.
Ease: This salad is neither easy nor difficult to make. In fact, it is easier to make the pickled onions than it looks. You just need to watch the heat and that the reduction is not happening too quickly as it will burn.
Time: Don’t let the 1 hour time put you off. 45 minutes of it is pickling the onions, and it’s a nice, slow process of reducing the dates and infusing the onions with all the gorgeous flavours. While you’re doing that, you can cook the lentils, too, so let the 2 cook away.
Pearl onions: For this recipe, please get the white ones. When purchasing pearl onions, try and get them of equal size as possible so that the pickling and cooking time is more consistent across each onion.
Fresh dates: You can find fresh dates at your grocers or the fruit and vegetable fridge section of your supermarket. Preferences are Medjool dates but not mandatory. Dates are all sweet so if you’re not a sweet tooth, reduce the amount to be added into the recipe.
Bay leaf: We often have bay leaves into soups and stews as the slow cooking process allows the leaves to break down. It adds subtle flavours that include menthol or spearmint notes and even tea-like or pine tree tastes.
Water: Required for both pickling the onion and cooking the puy lentils.
White wine vinegar: A good pickling requires a good amount of white wine vinegar.
Olive oil: Required for both pickling the onion as well as dressing the salad.
Caster sugar: Needed to give the onions additional sweetness.
Worcestershire sauce: Love adding some umami and tart flavours that will get infused into the onions during the pickling process.
Puy lentils: As the pickled onions are eaten whole, it’s nice for it to be accompanied by something more delicate. The puy lentils are smaller than the regular lentils, and it seemed like the better combination of ingredients.
Chervil and flat leaf parsley: Can’t have too many herbs in a salad. Adds freshness and makes for a delicate garnish to finish the plating well.
Lemon: To give it some extra tartness to balance the sweetness. Good to also add some citrus notes.
Salt and pepper: To taste
How to Pickle the Pearl Onions
Peel the small pearl onions. Do so carefully so that the onion remains intact and in its lovely shape. You want to ensure this pickled onion salad is well presented when you serve your guests.
Cut the dates into quarters and remove the pit.
In a medium saucepan, add the peeled onions, chopped dates, 2 bay leaves, 1 ½ cup of water, ½ cup of white wine vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp caster sugar and 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce.
Bring it to a boil and then simmer with the lid off for 45 minutes.
Remove the onions from the saucepan and set aside.
Remove the bay leaves and discard.
Leave the dates and reduced liquid in the saucepan.
How to Prepare the Rest of the Salad
In a small saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add ¾ cup puy lentils and bring down to a simmer with the lid off for about 20-25 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Roughly chop the flat leaf parsley to yield ½ cup.
Roughly chop the chervil to yield ¼ cup. Pick some additional leaves for garnish. The best chervil substitute is actually parsley, so if you’re unable to find chervil, you can add more parsley instead. You could also substitute chervil with tarragon.
How to Assemble the Salad
In a medium mixing bowl, add the puy lentils, chopped herbs, 1 tsp of olive oil and juice of ¼ lemon.
Take all the reduced liquid and dates out of the saucepan of onions and add to this mixing bowl.
Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
Place this puy lentil salad onto a platter.
Add the onions on top.
Season with pepper and add some chervil leaves for garnish.
Variations and Substitutions
Type of lentil: You can use any lentils of your choice for this salad. The closest variety to the puy lentil is the green lentil.
Type of dates: You can use different kinds of dates if you wish. With so many to select from, you’re spoilt for choice, with Medjool dates being the most popular and easiest to find.
Reducing sweetness: You can either reduce the number of dates or the amount of caster sugar you use in the recipe. One less date or 1 tbsp less of sugar will make a difference.
Removing refined sugar: If you don’t wish to use the caster sugar, just add 2 more dates to the recipe.
Chervil substitute: The best chervil substitute is tarragon, or you can just increase the amount of flat leaf parsley in the recipe.
Bay leaf replacement: If you don’t have dried bay leaves, you can substitute with dried oregano or dried thyme. About ¼ tsp will suffice.
Great Mains for This Salad
Sole Meunière: Puy lentils are a classic French ingredient. Pair with this Easy Sole Meunière in lemon brown butter sauce for a delicious France-inspired meal!
Slow Cooker Lamb Shoulder: This recipe super easy. With just five ingredients you can throw it on in the morning for a delicious fuss free meal at dinner time. Serve it up with this puy lentil salad for the perfect rounded dinner!
Lemon Garlic Chicken Legs: This sheet pan lemon garlic chicken legs and potatoes are easy, healthy, and damn delicious! The bursting lemon garlic flavours perfectly match the earthy flavours of the puy lentils and tangy pickled onions.
Make the puy lentil salad while the chicken and potatoes are cooking away in the oven, and you get a quick and delicious dinner in no time!
Frequently Asked Questions
Pearl onions are also known as creamers in the US or baby or button onions in the UK. They are sweeter and smaller than the white onions which make them the perfect candidate for pickling.
They come in white, brown or red, with the white variety being the most popular. These petite bulbs are usually consumed whole and can be found all year round.
Despite being mild and sweet and therefore a popular allium to consume, peeling these little suckers can be challenging. If you don’t have the patience to peel them like you would a typical onion, you can do the hot water trick.
Cut off the tip of the onion and place in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Remove and let it cool down to the point you’re able to handle them.
You can use a paring knife at this point, and you’ll find it much easier to peel the skin back. Sometimes, if you squeeze the root end, the onion pops out of its skin!
There is no need to get store bought dried bay leaves, which incidentally lack in flavour compared to those you can dry at home.
Pick the leaves at the optimal time, including when it’s not raining or when the dew has evaporated. Give them a quick wash to ensure all the dust and unwanted dirt is removed. Dry them with paper towels.
Then place some paper towels on a flat surface and space out the leaves with ample room between them. Ensure it is placed in a well ventilated room that is low in humidity. Let it be for 1 week and then turn them over and let it be for another week.
The best way to store whole dry bay leaves is in an airtight container in a dry, cool place. This will prevent mould from forming. If well stored, they can last up to 2 years.
Can you imagine the sugars from the Medjool dates working cohesively with the pearl onions and vinegar? Watch it slowly reduce to a gorgeous sticky sauce that binds every element into a delicious pickled onion salad when stirred through the puy lentils.
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Puy Lentil Salad with Warm Pickled Onions
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- Peel the small pearl onions.
- Cut the dates into quarters and remove the pit.
- In a medium saucepan, add the peeled onions, chopped dates, 2 bay leaves, 1 ½ cup of water, ½ cup of white wine vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp caster sugar and 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce. Bring it to a boil and then simmer with the lid off for 45 minutes. Remove the onions from the saucepan and set aside. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Leave the dates and reduced liquid in the saucepan.
- In a small saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add ¾ cup puy lentils and bring down to a simmer with the lid off for about 20-25 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Roughly chop the flat leaf parsley to yield ½ cup.
- Roughly chop the chervil to yield ¼ cup. Pick some additional leaves for garnish.
- In a medium mixing bowl, add the puy lentils, chopped herbs, 1 tsp of olive oil and juice of ¼ lemon.
- Take all the reduced liquid and dates out of the saucepan of onions and add to this mixing bowl.
- Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
- Place this puy lentil salad onto a platter.
- Add the onions on top.
- Season with pepper and add some chervil leaves for garnish.
- You can use any lentils of your choice for this salad. The closest variety to the puy lentil is the green lentil.
- You can use different types of dates if you wish. With so many to select from, you’re spoilt for choice.
- The best chervil substitute is tarragon, or you can just increase the amount of flat leaf parsley in the recipe.
- If you don’t have dried bay leaves, you can substitute with dried oregano or dried thyme. About ¼ tsp will suffice.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
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