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.
Recipe: 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.