Dream up a salad with cheese, please, asked Holler at Tinned Tomatoes for this month’s ‘No Croutons Required’ event. Cheese-lover as I am, I confess to finding it a bit difficult to imagine a yummy salad without cheese… and so, here is my offering for this event: fresh salad greens, warm and earthy lentils and eggplant, with some fabulous cheesy creaminess to finish.

Now, on trying to get to the bottom of the feta/fetta debacle, I discovered that one of my favourite cheeses offers much to intrigue beyond slippery spelling. (For those similarly concerned about such things, my non-scholarly research points to ‘feta’, which has the primary entry in the Shorter Oxford; ‘fetta’ is listed there as an alternative form.)

Here’s just one example: while many may already be aware that feta is traditionally made from a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk, who knew that this composition is effectively legally mandated in the European Union, to the point that it is not permitted to sell ‘feta’ cheese containing other milks? Outside the EU, feta cheese may contain cow’s milk as well. And, when I tried to discover more about the style of feta that I normally go for (a danish-style feta, which is distinctively smooth and creamy), I found that Denmark and Greece had in fact had a long-running legal stoush about this cheese, and the European Commission eventually ruled that only cheese produced in Greece can be labelled as ‘feta’ within the EU (see also here). I’m not sure whether there might be similar regulations in place outside the EU, but perhaps any of you readers who have a specialism in culinary trade law may be able to shed light on the matter.

But to return to the salad: to make this a speedy mid-week meal, I’m a fan of using tinned lentils. I find french-style brown lentils great for salads as they’re tasty, substantial in texture and hold their shape well. Of course, you could start from dried lentils if you’re so inclined. In that case you might even want to add a couple of whole cloves of garlic to the cooking water instead of using garlic at the eggplant stage. Also, just for the record, we used a creamy goat’s cheese feta here, but I’m sure that any creamy or danish-style feta would work well.

Spiced eggplant and lentil salad with feta

4 small eggplant (about 300g), diced into 1cm cubes
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp cumin
425g french-style lentils, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
100g baby spinach leaves
50g creamy feta

In a medium bowl, combine the lentils with the red wine vinegar and 1 tbsp olive oil.  Set aside.

In a non-stick frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of the olive oil, and add the diced eggplant. Stir-fry the eggplant on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until it starts to soften. Add the onion, garlic and cumin, and cook for a further 5-7 minutes, until all the vegetables are well-cooked and the eggplant golden. Take off the heat and season well with salt and pepper. Add to the lentils and stir to combine.

Set out the baby spinach on serving plates. Scatter over the eggplant and lentil mixture, and top with the crumbled feta.

Yield: 4 light meals

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