Cowboy Confetti

lentilsaladv-whole-foodsForgive me, Whole Foods, for I have sinned….

It’s been 2 months since my last confession…of taking one of your best dishes and taking out more than half the calories

But before you make me count a dried bean rosary–or peacefully protest on my lawn– let me state my case…

I was in desperate need of a “Southwestern” dish for the pot luck dinner before the school play.

(It was sort of “How the West was Won”…but, occasionally, seemed to happen in real time…)

And, in old timey days (when I weighed 34 pounds more), I would have felt pretty good about picking up your original dish, just as it is. Like all dried legumes, lentils are loaded with nutrition…providing protein, folate, even iron. And, according to Dr. Perricone (and Oprah), lentils are a “superfood” that we want to make part of our diet.

But just 1 cup of lentils has 230 calories!  And, if something tastes good, I have a very hard time stopping with just one cup…

lentilsaladcupBut by mixing those lentils with more than double the amount of other veggies (many of them almost calorie free), a cup of this heavenly dish has less than 100 calories a cup, even more taste and texture, and still delivers a mother lode of nutrition! And without all of the extra oil in the original version, this dish can keep in the fridge without getting gummy and weird…

Which meant I could make it hours ahead, ride into the pot luck dinner without breaking a sweat, and the other parents could enjoy this dish without anyone needing an extra horse to carry them home!

A note about ingredients: Though any lentils also taste great in this dish, red lentils (which look orange) are SO much prettier…

But, because they’re hulled and split, they need a far shorter cooking time. The technique below really works to cook them just enough while letting them retain their color and texture.

And, if serving for a party, it’s okay to go ahead and add the chopped tomatoes and avocado the day you make it. But, if making this to eat over a couple of days, just add them at the last minute…the taste and texture will be SO much better!


2 cups dried red lentils, well rinsed
1 red bell pepper, small dice
1 green bell pepper, small dice
1-2 good sized shallots, chopped fine (you can sub a half of a small red onion.)
2 medium sized Persian cucumbers, unpeeled, small dice (Do use the Persian variety…regular cukes or English cukes have thicker skins, release too much water, and have to be seeded, which is too much work.)
3 green onions, chopped fine
2-4 fresh jalapenos, seeded, minced (Fresh peppers are hard to predict…they can be really hot, or really mild. Taste as you mince and add according to how much heat you like.)
1 cup frozen corn, rinsed in cold water until thawed
1 cup canned or homemade black beans, rinsed (You don’t want the dark bean juice to discolor the other veg.)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
4 vine-ripened tomatoes, small dice (add just before serving)
1/2 ripe avocado, small dice (add just before serving)


2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar (Note: I tried using just one or the other, one was too tart, one was too sweet…but mixed together, just right.)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (Or, if you have a garlic press, use that…the garlic juice will add loads of flavor.)
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder (regular, chipotle or ancho chili powder, whichever you prefer)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Before you begin, chop and mince all of your vegetables except tomatoes and avocado.  (To save time, you don’t have to be precious about it…just chop as best you can and rock your large knife across until they’re cut into a small dice, or minced, depending on the veg.)

Place the veg in a bowl large enough to to hold the final dish which, without tomatoes or avocado, will yield about 12 cups.

Rinse lentils well in a sieve, agitating with your hand to remove any dust or debris. Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a medium saucepan (no need to add salt) and, as soon as it boils, add lentils. Stir, and immediately turn heat down to low. Set timer for 6 minutes. (You don’t want to overcook….you want lentils to still be firm and retain their color.)

While lentils are cooking, quickly whisk together the dressing. When timer goes off, drain the lentils back into the sieve over the sink, rinse with cold water (to stop them from cooking) and give them 4-5 strong shakes and tosses to get rid of excess water.

When they are as dry as you can get them, dump into the bowl with the rest of the chopped veg (minus tomatoes and avocado), pour on the dressing and gently stir and toss until everything is well seasoned.

If you’re making to serve for a party that night, set the dish in the fridge, and chop your ripe tomatoes and put them in the sieve over a bowl for 20 minutes to drain out their excess water. While tomatoes drain, chop your avocado.

Pull the salad from the fridge, gently fold in the tomatoes and avocado, check for seasonings, adding a little more salt only if needed. (Again, if making this for your refrigerated inventory, don’t add the tomato and avocado until you’re ready to eat it.)


Fresh jalapenos are, usually, fairly mild…if you want to pump up the heat, use Serrano peppers, but mince very fine.


After 25 years as a local and network anchor, Lisa McRee was just another American mother struggling, and failing, to lose weight. Finally, she cracked the code, and lost 30 pounds, quickly and for good, by doing what she loves: reporting, cooking and eating! Visit The Skinny to see how she did it.