I think we all get into a habit of cooking and eating certain things over and over again, either because your seven year old whines for it on a daily basis or simply because you can whip it up with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back.
Although my pantry shelves are sagging under the weight of a large array of boxes, bags and jars – all the interesting ingredients I can’t seem to stop myself from collecting for experimentation purposes, I’ve been watching myself reach for the same things to serve as the basis of a quick, one-dish meal when dinner time is nigh and I don’t have a plan; usually some kind of pasta or couscous.
Somewhere along the line I’ve strayed away from good old bulgur. Remember tabbouleh? All you need is hot water and it magically swells into a nourishing meal.
Way back before we made couscous the new “instant” side dish, there was tabbouleh to save the day. Many a college dorm room or apartment kitchen of mine was scented by that little spice packet that came in the tabbouleh box, with its telltale aroma of dried mint and slightly stale cumin.
I had a few friends over for a summer dinner party the other night, and wanted to have most everything made ahead. I had a Middle Eastern flavor theme going, so pulled out one of my favorite cookbooks, Spice by Ana Sortun, and there was a recipe for tabbouleh that jumped out at me.
It turned out to be the perfect thing to round out a summer meal – fast, fresh and I didn’t have to cook it! Well, not unless you count boiling water as cooking.
What I loved about this version was that it uses basil and walnuts, which was a nice twist on the usual parsley-mint-tomato combo.
1/2 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup fine or medium bulgur
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 cup toasted walnuts or almonds
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a medium bowl, combine lemon juice, onion, garlic and salt. Let sit about 5 minutes to soften the onion.
Stir in the bulgur along with 1/4 cup hot water. Cover and let stand about 15 minutes, or until the bulgur swells and is tender. Add a bit more water, if needed, if the bulgur is still chewy, and cover until absorbed.
Pulse the basil, parsley, nuts and oil in a food processor until a paste forms. Season with salt and pepper. Add the paste to the bulgur and stir to blend.
Serve topped with grated sharp cheese (such as feta) and toasted pita bread.