Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cherry-Basil Tabbouleh

I have made quite a bit of tabbouleh in my time. I usually use quinoa or couscous or millet and call it good. I know that is a little heretical, and it does result sometimes in an overly moist salad. In fact, it wasn't until this week that I actually made a tabbouleh with wheat bulgur.

But wait, I can explain. I have not-so-fond memories of bulgur--ones that involve a dry, fluffy "salad" with too much parsley and too little salt. They had an "rustic" texture reminiscent of wood shavings. Dry wood shavings. Did I mention they weren't moist at all?

But back in April Saint Luke's had their annual Maundy Thursday potluck. It stands as a ritual remembrance, a tip of the hat to the Last Supper and to the culture and cuisine which birthed it. Really, it's just a bunch of high-church Protestants and Anglicized, back-slider Catholics getting together for lamb, hummous, pita bread, olives, and (you guessed it) tabbouleh.

I don't remember even eating in meals past, but this year the food was especially good. More to the point, it was the first time I had ever had a good tabbouleh with wheat bulgur. It was wheaty and chewy and instead of compressing and getting sticky or too wet when you finally added enough dressing, like quinoa, couscous, or millet, it stayed light. Hence the tendency towards sawdust. But, in this case, instead of sawdust it was just everything a well-structured whole(ish) grain salad should be. And I've been thinking about it ever since.

Fast forward to this last week when my mother-in-law sent me home with three cucumbers from her garden. It was clear the future of those cucumbers. I'd been plotting my step into wheat bulgur-based tabbouleh land since that Thursday night potluck, and I had just stockpiled a few too many bunches of parsley by accident a few days before I received the gift of garden. The deal was sealed. Tabbouleh. My first wheat bulgur tabbouleh.

And then I forgot how to cook. I made the recipe on the back of the Bob's Red Mill package, and it was awful. Sawdust puff. Exactly what I hated. Lucky for me I have these rare readable things in my cupboard. They're called cookbooks. They have recipes in them, and some of them even have pictures. I know.

I found a recipe for a grain salad with cherries and basil in Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day, and all of the sudden I could breath again. I liked the combination of blueberries and basil last summer (directions in the notes here). So--cherries and basil. Exactly. It just so happened that I had a little too much of those too.

It is a good thing I found that recipe. I've been pouty about the presence of basil in the world. When I smell basil all I want is a slab of tomato topped with fresh mozzarella and a smear of mayonnaise or a healthy drizzle of olive oil. Or pesto. Pesto with cheese. Cheese. Granted, at least with the pesto I could extract the cheese component. I already have my standby identical twin cilantro-based pestos, both cheeseless and thoroughly addictive. But I always hesitate to take traditional ingredients like Parmesan out of traditional foods like basil pesto.

So this veritable revelation of cherries and basil and grain salad saved a whole lot of herbs from the compost bin, and it saved me the effort of pouting. I tweaked and tinkered and kept notes and came out the other side with this really delightful twist on wheat bulgur tabbouleh. I hope you like it!

Cherry-Basil Tabbouleh

Adapted from Bob's Red Mill recipe. Inspired by Super Natural Every Day

This makes quite a bit of tabbouleh, but it keeps well. I find it enormously helpful to have a prepared salad on hand for quick, filling, and fresh weekday lunches. That said, it is easily halved. Serve for lunch atop a bed of lettuce and topped with chicken or goat cheese or both. Or, serve as-is like I plan to do tomorrow alongside lamb burgers or kebabs, lamb sausages, or anything else lamby. Or roast chicken! Or on its own, as straightforward as it may seem, like Cedar likes it. You can even pick out the cherries first if you want. I won't tell.

2 cups wheat bulgur
2 cups boiling water
3/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
a healthy grinding of black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar, or more lemon juice
4 scallions
1 large cucumber, diced
3 cups parsley, minced

1 cup basil, ribboned
1/4 cup mint, minced
1 pound sweet cherries, pitted and quartered
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, broken

Combine wheat bulgur and boiling water in a medium-sized bowl or pot. Cover with a lid and let sit for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Stir together the salt, pepper, olive oil, lemons, and vinegar (or lemon juice). Add in the scallions, cucumber, parsely, basil, and mint and toss lightly. When the bulgur is ready, add it to the bowl and stir well.

Taste. It should not remind you of wood. Too tart? Add a swirl of olive oil. Too bland? Add salt. Too dulled, add more vinegar or lemon juice. When you've got the seasoning correct, and you are ready to eat the salad, toss in the cherries and crumble in the walnuts, saving some of each for the top, if you like. The flavors mingle best after a day, but do serve it at room temperature if you can (cool is ok too, just not the best). Enjoy!

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