Place the shallots in a small bowl. Add the vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, and chile. Let stand while you cook the lentils.
In a large saucepan, combine the lentils with enough water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat so that the water is just simmering. Partially cover and cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape. Drain well in a sieve and transfer to a serving bowl with the salt, pepper, and olive oil. Add the shallot/chile mixture and toss again gently. Let the salad stand at room temperature for 30 minutes so that the flavors can marry, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.
If the shallots are very strongly flavored, place them in a small bowl, cover with ice water and add an ice cube. Let stand for 20 minutes, then drain and blot the shallots dry on paper towels.
c.1997, M.S. Milliken & S. Feniger, all rights reserved