Springtime in Penelope’s Kitchen: Seared salmon with lentils, mushrooms, leeks and asparagus

PENELOPE MOORE PHOTO | Seared salmon with lentils, mushrooms and asparagus.
PENELOPE MOORE PHOTO | Seared salmon with lentils, mushrooms and asparagus.

This dinner has, over the years, become a springtime tradition in my household. Pairing seared salmon and lentils for spring holidays is a flavorful alternative to meat-oriented dinners. Salmon, lentils, shitake mushrooms and leeks have been nutritional staples throughout the world for centuries.

Lentils were part of the human diet over 10,000 years ago and in the Jewish tradition have symbolized the life cycle from birth to death. In Italy they have symbolized prosperity because of their coin-like shape and have fed countless people in countries that experience severe drought. The lentil has a nutty flavor that makes it a versatile foundation for main courses including soups, stews, curries and fritters.

Leeks are a part of the onion family and are delicate and sweet. Leeks, along with daffodils, are national emblems of Wales and are traditionally worn by the Welsh on St. David’s Day, which often coincides with Easter and Passover. Leeks have been celebrated by everyone from the Emperor Nero to Shakespeare’s “Henry V” to Hemingway.

Shitake mushrooms, which grow on trees, have been cultivated since the year 1209 and have been used in Asian cuisines over the centuries. Fresh and dried shitake each have a different flavor. My mother, who was Japanese, used to soak dried shitake mushrooms in warm water, marinate them in rice vinegar and use them in sushi rolls. The mushroom recipe here is a variation of her recipe.

Seared Salmon 

(Serves 4)

2 pounds salmon filet

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt/pepper to taste


1/2 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 sprigs fresh thyme

Dash crushed red pepper (optional)

Rinse salmon filets under cold water, pat dry. Place marinade ingredients in a zip-loc bag and add filets. Put the bag in a bowl or other receptacle so that filets are covered with marinade and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or overnight.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on high heat. Place the salmon in the pan, with skin side down, and reduce the flame to medium-low. Allow to cook without moving the fish for approximately 7 minutes or until filets release easily with a spatula.

Turn the filet over and cook for an additional 2 minutes, then serve.

Lentils with Tomato Sauce

1/2 bag dried brown lentils (approximately 8 ounces)

3 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 bay leaves

Tomato sauce

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

26 ounces chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 sprigs fresh thyme

Black pepper to taste

Rinse the lentils in a colander under cold water.

In a saucepan, boil water, add salt and lentils, reduce the heat to low and simmer until lentils are tender, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a sautée pan on medium high heat, add oil. When the oil is hot, add garlic and brown, taking care not to burn the garalic. Add the tomatoes and salt and bring to a boil. Turn down to medium low heat, add thyme and pepper, and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.

Add cooked lentils and combine with care, without making lentils mushy, then serve

Shitake Mushrooms with Leeks 

2 cups dried shitake mushrooms

2 cups lukewarm water

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large leeks — white flesh cleaned and minced, with green portion removed

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Soak mushrooms for approximately 45 minutes, then squeeze out excess water. Set mushrooms aside and reserve the water.

In a warmed sautée pan, add olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is heated, add the leeks, stir and then add garlic and salt. When the leeks are translucent, add the mushrooms. Cook for 2 minutes, then add vinegar.

Stir and combine ingredients for approximately 5 minutes

When vinegar begins to carmelize, add small amounts of the reserved water and scrape bottom and sides of the pan. Turn heat to low and simmer for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, then serve

Asparagus with Lemon and Parmesan

1 pound asparagus


1/4 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice

Flat parsley, chopped fine

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Peel the skin and remove reedy ends from the asparagus. Place in askillet of boiled, salted water, about an inch — just enough to cover the asparagus. Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove asparagus spears and use a dishcloth to pat dry.

Place asparagus in broiling pan, then add oil, lemon and parsley, combining all ingredients with care. Sprinkle cheese over the asparagus

Place in the oven under high broil just until the cheese has browned.