Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bulgur salad a slate for summer's bounty

Summer is bulgur salad season for me. Although the most popular bulgur salad is probably tabouli — a salad made with something like two parts of parsley per part of wheat in classic versions — but since I'm not much of a parsley fan, I look for other ways of using the grain. One of my favorites is a recipe in Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean (yes, that book again). It's so much a favorite and so adaptable that in July and August I made it on several consecutive weekends. Below I have sketched out a basic recipe that contains most of Wolfert's original flavoring elements — I find that two key flavors are pomegranate molasses and allspice, which bring a rich sweetness and brightness, respectively.

The grain in this salad is bulgur wheat, a grain that has been cooked, dried, cracked, and sorted by size.  It is sold in a handful of sizes from extra-coarse to fine, often labeled with a number that also defines the size (#1 is fine, #4 is extra-coarse).

With most of the ingredients being pantry staples or not dependent on being grown locally, One week, I went locavore with the recipe, adding fresh local tomatoes and roasted local eggplant to the basic salad. Another week I threw in some French feta that was 'aging' in my refrigerator. There are many other possible flavors that I haven't tried yet: diced preserved lemon, a fresh Middle Eastern cheese (like that white farmers cheese sold in Middle Eastern shops, often labeled "Syrian cheese"), cooked chickpeas, large cranberry beans, slow roasted tomatoes, to name a few. Although this is usually a summer dish for me, there are probably some winter vegetables that would be enjoyable.

Bulgur Salad
Adapted from The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean by Paula Wolfert

1 1/2 cups fine-grain bulgur (grade #3)
1 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/3 cup roughly chopped toasted walnuts
1 T. pomegranate molasses or more to taste
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 t. ground cumin
1 1/2 t. ground coriander
1 t. Aleppo pepper* or other medium-heat dry red pepper
1/2 t. ground allspice
1 t. salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1-2 cups additional vegetables and/or cheese

Place bulgur in a fine sieve and agitate to remove any wheat dust. Place in a bowl, cover with cold water and let soak for 15 to 30 minutes. Return to sieve and squeeze out excess liquid.

Saute the onions in the olive oil. Set aside to cool.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. For ideal flavor, cover and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors meld before serving.

Serve at room temperature or chilled, garnished with chopped walnuts and minced parsley.

* Aleppo pepper is a mildly hot, aromatic ground red pepper from Syria or Turkey, occasionally sold under the name "Near East Pepper." It's available in specialty food stores or Middle Eastern markets.

Random link from the archive: A Pickle's Comeback

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A rare sighting of cooked cucumbers

Cucumbers are one of those vegetables — like lettuce — that are almost never heated. And so, when I ran across a recipe that calls for sauteing cucumbers in oil, I had to give it a try.

The recipe is in New Salads: Quick Healthy Recipes from Japan, a thin book that contains a wide variety of Japanese approaches to salad making. Although only 124 pages, it is packed with useful background information to go with the recipes, like diagrams of how to cut vegetables, explanations of the ingredients and techniques of Japanese cooking, and much more. Following chapters titled "Beautiful Salads" and "Healthy Salads," the author presents "Simple Salads" organized by the main vegetable ingredient.

The recipe was designed for Japanese cucumbers, which have thin, edible skins and minimal seediness, but I imagine that other varieties with similar characteristics could work also, like English cucumbers and perhaps even the pale green Armenian varieties.  In my mind, the finished recipe is a side dish that serves the purpose of a small bowl of Japanese pickles as a meal enhancer rather than a full-fledged salad or side dish. 

Recipe:  Korean-style Marinated Cucumbers
Adapted from New Salads: Quick Healthy Recipes from Japan by Shinko Shimizu (Kodansha International, 1986)

4 Japanese cucumbers or other cucumbers with thin skins (1 lb / 400 g)
1/2 t. salt
2 green onions
1 T. sesame oil

Slice cucumbers very thinly -- you want them to be so thin that you can almost see through the slices. Toss the cucumber slices with the salt, trying to get as much of the cucumber surface covered with salt as possible (this is not so easy because the slices stick together). Let stand for a few minutes.

When cucumber is soft and flexible, wrap in a cloth and squeeze out excess liquid.

Finely chop the green onions.

Heat the sesame oil in a pan, add the cucumbers and saute. Add half the green onions (reserving the other half for garnish), stir and remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature.

Sprinkle with remaining green onions and serve.

Random link from the archive: It's time for a political do-not-mail list

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Cooking outside the zone for National Farmers Market Week

In honor of National Farmers Market week, August 1-7 (PDF), my friend Bonnie Powell is asking farmers market enthusiasts to cook outside of our comfort zones (Ethicurean and Grist). It's good to shake things up sometimes, so I thought I'd give it a few tries. This is part 1: tokyo turnips. Yeah, I know, turnips are pretty ho hum, a very common root vegetable. Plus: "Hey Marc, didn't you hear that it is summertime? You know, tomatoes, basil, and other good stuff?" Sure, I admit that turnips are hardly exotic, but it was one of those weeks at the Berkeley Farmers Market where nothing much was unusual, and since I rarely buy turnips and almost buy ones with greens attached, it was a little bit outside my comfort zone.

It was tempting to do what the people in Shelbyville do with their turnips — turnip juice — but I was in a Mediterranean mood last weekend so I first turned to a memory of restaurant meals and then got some ideas from a reliable guide to the Middle East.

Quick Turnip Pickles
One of the things I love about certain Middle Eastern restaurants is the pickled turnips that accompany a meal, so I decided to make quick pickled turnips and carrots, adapting a recipe originally published in Gourmet Magazine in 1993 and currently living on Epicurious. I took major liberties with the recipe, using ginger powder instead of ginger root (ginger powder appears in a few Middle Eastern recipes that I make, while fresh ginger rarely does), substituting dill weed for dill seed, and leaving out the celery seed and red bell peppers. Although the ginger powder flavor was a little unpleasant, the pickles were good overall and quite easy to make.

Turnip Greens and Potatoes with Garlic Paprika Sauce
I also wanted to use the greens, so I looked in a few books before finding a simple recipe in Mediterranean Grains and Greens by Paula Wolfert. It's a simple dish from Galicia, Spain: steamed potatoes and turnip greens topped with a garlic- and paprika-infused vinaigrette. With good potatoes and good paprika, it can be a simple pleasure. I used a smoked sweet paprika that I recently bought at The Spanish Table to use in a salad dressing recipe from Food and Wine magazine (it was OK, a little sweet). An adapted recipe is shown below.

Recipe: Turnip Tops and Potatoes with Garlic-Paprika Sauce
Adapted from Mediterranean Grains and Greens by Paula Wolfert

Boiling or roasting potatoes, such as Yukon Gold
Turnip greens
Oil, if you are roasting the potatoes
Adapted Galician Ajada Sauce (see below)

Cut the potatoes in half if small, or quarters (or eighths) if large. You're aiming for pieces that are roughly 1 1/2" across.

Rinse the turnip greens, slice off tough stems, then broadly chop the greens.

Alternative Method 1: Roasted Potatoes
Cut the potatoes in half if small, or quarters (or eighths) if large, then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a sheet pan and roast at 400 F until tender.

Steam the turnip greens until tender. Combine with the potatoes and toss with half of the sauce. Drizzle with the remaining sauce just before serving.

Alternative Method 2: Steamed Potatoes
Place the potatoes in a steamer basket and pile the turnip greens on top of the potatoes. Steam for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are done. Remove from the steamer and toss with half of the sauce. Drizzle with the remaining sauce just before serving.

Adapted Galician Ajada Sauce


3 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thickly sliced
1 t. smoked paprika
1 t. red wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a small pan over low heat, then fry the garlic until golden brown. Remove the garlic pieces. Turn off the heat and let the oil cool. Add the paprika, vinegar, salt and pepper and stir well.

Photo of baby turnip from In Praise of Sardines's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.

Random link from the archive: Tempura at Ten-Ichi