In the mid-80s, after a long day of wrestling with algebra and 7th-grade-girl politics, my best friend Jeni and I would head to her house to decompress with a Ms. Pacman marathon. I remember the two of us walking into the sunny foyer of their tall Victorian, dumping our CB jackets and LeSportSacs in a big mound on the floor (so thoughtful), and then, like programmed robots who had no say in the matter, heading straight for the kitchen.
Remember when Bugs Bunny would smell something delicious and he would literally float in the air following the wafting aroma? That was what it was like walking into that house. More often than not, Jeni’s mother Rosa would be in her kitchen cooking up a roast, baking a pie, or concocting dinner from one of the stained cards or yellowed New York Times clippings that were jammed into a little wooden recipe box on the counter.
I felt so comfortable in their home that I would open the refrigerator and poke around for something to eat without even asking. Unlike in my house, where the idea of a jackpot after school snack was an Entenmann’s chocolate frosted doughnut dipped in a glass of whole milk, a jackpot at Jeni’s was a tupperware container filled with leftovers from dinner the night before. And on the best days, one of those leftovers was Rosa’s lentil salad. There was nothing terribly fancy about the recipe — it was made with lentils, scallions, peppers, and a tarragon-spiked vinaigrette — but something magical would happen overnight when all those flavors mingled. I would’ve bypassed the entire Entenmann’s section in Grand Union for a bowl of the stuff.
I probably ate the lentil salad eight hundred times in my childhood, but I don’t think one of those times was in a proper dinner table setting. The only way I can remember eating it is straight from the tupperware container, both Jeni and I sitting on the Marimekko-cushioned kitchen bench fighting each other for every last bite. And even though I’ve since made some version of the recipe in my own kitchen eight hundred times (most recently last week alongside a simple salmon), that still remains my favorite way to eat it. (more…)