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A Side to Remember – Classic Tabbouleh

I love to peruse the New York Times dining section, in particular I am continually amazed by the column called “The Minimalist.” Mark Bittman, it’s author, is a culinary genius, his recipes are so diverse and yet are all reduced quite elegantly to a set of simply choreographed video recipes. The other night I followed Bittman’s advice and roasted a chicken, it was beautiful and golden and juicy. But I’m not really here to talk about the chicken, Mark Bittman’s post does that so well already. What I would like to share with you today is the side dish we enjoyed with that delectable bird.

Tabbouleh is one of the Middle East’s most popular dishes, and eating this it immediately becomes clear why. This flavorful dish is coated with a light lemon based dressing perfumed with the nutty notes of toasted cumin and a slightly spicy punch of cayenne. Actually, the name Tabbouleh comes from the Arabic word Tabil, which means to spice or season, its no wonder that the spices in this dish are featured front and center. Additionally the salad is chock full of one of my favorite grains of all time, bulgur. Bulgur is a whole grain made from white wheat that has been par boiled and dried. The par boiling makes this grain quick to prepare, to make the tabbouleh the bulgur only needs to be soaked in boiled water for about 20 mins and then drained.

I always recommend using farm fresh tomatoes when cooking if they are readily available, however, for this dish, finding the worlds best tomatoes is less crucial than it would be in, say, a tomato mozzarella salad. I used some nice, ripe looking Romas with great success. I am fairly certain that, if you wanted to, you could swap the tomatoes out entirely for some nice crisp cucumbers, though you would not get the striking color contrast of green on red that the tomatoes provide. For this dish you will likely need a little more salt than you initially expect, so season, taste, and season some more. I find that it is helpful to let the dish sit for a few minutes after it is all mixed together, before adding in the additional seasonings as the flavors will meld during those few minutes of rest and give you a more accurate picture of what the dish will taste like come dinner time. The flavors pair quite well with any grilled meat or veggie, lamb or eggplant kebabs would go stunningly with this, leftovers, if you have any, can be served up for lunch the next day in a wrap with hummus or turkey. However you choose to enjoy this dish, share with friends and family and dig in!

Classic Tabbouleh

1 Cup Fine Bulgur Soaked in Just Boiled Water for 20 mins (or until al dente)
6 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
2 TSP Ground Toasted Cumin
1 TSP Aleppo Pepper Flakes
1 TBSP Kosher Salt
5 Roma Tomatoes, Chopped
5 Scallions, Whites Chopped into Thin Rounds
1 Bunch Flat Leaf Parsley, Thick Stems Trimmed off, Chopped
3 TBSP Mint Chopped (or 2 TSP dried)

Soak bulgur in just boiled water until al dente and drain well.

Mix olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, aleppo, and salt together in a small bowl and mix.

Mix together bulgur, tomatoes, parsley, scallions, and mint in a large bowl. Dress lightly with some of the dressing and toss. Taste. Let it sit for 5 mins and taste again, adding additional dressing if needed.

Back to Cooking – Bulgur Wheat Pilaf with Yogurt Sauce

I have been somewhat slightly obsessed with Yatam Ottolengi’s recipes since I first saw his cookbook “Ottolenghi” at Borders bookstore about a year ago. While I have been trying to hold back on buying too many cookbooks, I knew I would have to take this one home, and the reason was simple, I had never seen anything quite like it. There was no particular “cuisine” or ethnic slant to the recipe, this was not a book about making pasta, or baking bread, and there was no specific diet in mind and yet there was a clear point of view that shone out through each and every recipe.

Since that first encounter I have been following Yatam on the web (i.e. flipping through his webpage and restaurant menus and drooling) but more than anything I have been anxiously awaiting the US debut of his new book “Plenty.” Plenty is a compilation of recipe’s from Ottolenghi’s column in London’s “Guardian” Newspaper called “The New Vegetarian.” While Yatam is not, himself, a vegetarian, the dishes featured in the column are and they represent a bright and multifaceted take on vegetarian cuisine that both vegetarians and their more omnivorous counterparts can appreciate and enjoy.

This book had also helped to inspire me to cook more vegetarian friendly foods. As this column is about the wonderful cornucopia of nature’s bounty, it would make sense that many of the recipes featured herein are vegetarian in nature. And I will do my best to feature at least 2 Vegetarian and one Vegan recipe each month. This one, in particular, is one of my new favorites. Ottolenghi originally wrote it to feature Freekeh, but as I had bulgur on hand I opted to use the variation offered in the recipe for bulgur wheat and it turned out wonderfully. Don’t be afraid of the quantity of herbs in this recipe, I was a bit trepidations at first but the volume of herbs really brings big flavor to the table. The yogurt sauce is likely my favorite part of the dish. Its pungent garlic and creamy flavor add new dimension to the slightly-sweet and definitively-herbaceous pilaf.

Bulgur Wheat Pilaf with Yogurt Sauce

Ras El Hanout is a middle eastern spice that can be found at gourmet cooking stores (like Williams Sonoma where I bought mine) and specialty spice shops. If you cannot find it substitute 1/4 TSP Cumin and 1/4 TSP Cinnamon.

2 Medium Onions Thinly Sliced
2 TBSP Butter
1 TBSP Olive Oil
1 1/4 Cup Bulgur Wheat
1/2 TSP Ras El Hanout
3 Cups Vegetable Stock Reduced to 1 1/2 Cups
1/2 Cup Full Fat Yogurt
1 Clove Minced Garlic (TJs Frozen Garlic Works Fine)
1 1/2 TSP Lemon Juice
1/8 Cup Finely Chopped Parsley
1/8 Cup Finely Chopped Mint
1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Cilantro

Heat a large sauce pan (with a good fitting lid) over medium heat. Add butter and, once melted, onions, to the pan and sautee for 15-20 minutes or until the onions are very soft and beginning to brown.

While the onions are cooking place the bulgur wheat in bowl and cover with cool water, allow to soak for 5 minutes and drain well.

Once the onions have browned, add bulgur, spices, and stock and bring to a boil. Immediately cover, reduce to low and simmer or 5 minute.

While the pilaf cooks, mix together yogurt, garlic and lemon juice, along with some salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

When the pilaf has finished cooking remove from the heat and allow it to stand with the lid on for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and let stand for another 5 minutes to cool a bit. Stir in the herbs and serve topped with the yogurt sauce. This dish also tastes great with a light sprinkling of aleppo pepper.

Categories: Grains, Onions Tags: , , ,
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