‘Volós! Anyone for Volós?’ the holiday rep called. ‘Anyone for Volós?’ she repeated. Again and again. For some reason, this caused my son, who must have been 11 years old at the time, to fall to the floor crying with laughter. That memory still amuses him to this day so I repeat it often just to see his beautiful face crack into a broad smile. We were travelling – just the two of us – to a remote Greek resort and Volós was the nearest airport. Sadly, we didn’t have a chance to check out what I believe to be one of the most beautiful cities in all of Greece and the mythical birthplace of the Centaurs – part equine, part human – the children of Nephele and Ixion. I can’t remember where our ultimate destination was that year but I do remember a beautiful a couple of weeks swimming in the Aegean Sea and playing what we called ‘batty ball’ (this made him laugh too because I was hopeless and it was his intention to annihilate me). One day, we came across a tiny little backstreet store packed full of local ingredients including thick and fruity olive oils; gnarled lemons picked straight from the tree; huge hessian sacks of dried Greek legumes including chickpeas, fava (split yellow peas), lentils and beans; jars of olives, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers; crisp greens and foraged herbs; salty feta and squeaky halloumi; super-ripe tomatoes, green peppers and sweet white onions as well as apricots, peaches and melons. It has everything we needed and the Greek-inspired dishes I pulled together over a two-ringed electric hob were pretty memorable. This is one of them and, every time I make it, I think of that holiday and my son, his smile barely masking a fierce competitive spirit; unsurprisingly, he went on to become a hugely successful sportsman. This salad is great on its own but, if you fancy it, crumble in 200g of feta or add a layer of crispy grilled halloumi.
250g dark speckled lentils
8 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained (retain the oil for the dressing)
280g jar roasted red peppers in oil, drained (retain the oil for the dressing)
20 pitted black olives, drained
1 medium fennel bulb, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
A handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
A handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Fresh dill, finely chopped for garnishing
8 tbsp oil from the sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers combined
2.5 tbsp red wine vinegar
2.5 tbsp water
Juice of half a lemon
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1-2 tsp unrefined granulated sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
How I make it
Rinse the lentils and place in a large pan. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, partially cover and cook the lentils until they are cooked but still retain their shape and bite (allow around 20 minutes). Drain and rinse under a cold tap to stop the cooking process. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining all the ingredients in a jam jar, cover with a lid and shake to mix everything together. Set aside. I try to make the dressing the day before to allow the flavours to come together.
Place the tomatoes, peppers, olives, fennel and onion in a food processor and chop everything to about the same size as the lentils. Transfer to a large bowl, add the lentils and the herbs, Mix carefully.
Shake the dressing again and add as much of it to your lentil mixture as you want to remembering that different brands of jarred tomatoes, peppers and olives deliver different flavours so be confident and adjust everything to your own taste. Garnish with the fresh dill.