Discerning Diner...with Elan Head
Bulgur, not vulgar

A few weeks ago, I was in the bulk foods section of one of our Kyrene Corridor grocery stores when I noticed a bin of bulgur.

And because I’m one of those wild, I’d-let-my-hair-down-if-I-had-any kind of people, I thought to myself: 

“What the heck, I am going to buy some of this stuff.”

This is the unbridled freedom of maturity that I longed for throughout my childhood.

But long story short, I bought some bulgur, and guess what? It’s pretty good.

Not that bulgur has ever been far off my radar screen. I’ve always loved the bulgur salad tabbouleh, and—thanks to the many Middle Eastern restaurants in and around our community—I’ve never gone long without a fix.

Still, it had been a while since I had made tabbouleh at home. Man, have I been missing out. This classic cold salad is quick and easy, and deserves to be a summer staple.

Bulgur itself is really nothing exotic, just wheat that has been steamed, dried and broken into coarse bits. Because it’s precooked, it doesn’t take long to prepare: simply cover one part bulgur with 1¾ parts hot water and let stand for 20 to 30 minutes. Add more water if the bulgur seems dry; drain it if the grains are soft but still wet.

If you’re serious about bulgur, you can steam it to achieve more delicate grains. For the method, turn to a cookbook like Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone—I’m a vulgar bulgur eater myself.

Once you’ve prepared the bulgur, turning it into tabbouleh is a breeze. For four servings, you’ll need to start with one cup of dried bulgur, which plumps up to several cups cooked.

You’ll also need plenty of parsley (two large bunches is not too much). Flat-leaf parsley typically has better flavor, but I love the fluffy texture of curly parsley in tabbouleh. Your call.

While the bulgur is soaking, wash and dry your parsley of choice and chop it finely, discarding the greater part of the stems.

Chop a bunch of scallions. I like to split each scallion lengthwise down the middle, then chop crosswise to yield small half-rings. Include some of the scallion greens for color.

Seed and dice one large or two small tomatoes. You can also throw in a cucumber, if you’d like: peel, seed and dice it small. 

If you can come by some fresh mint, chop a handful of that for the salad, too.

Now, whisk one-third cup fresh lemon juice with one-third cup extra virgin olive oil and one-half teaspoon salt. When the bulgur is soft, toss it with half of this dressing in a large serving bowl.

Stir in the parsley, scallions, tomatoes and optional cucumber and mint. Pour the rest of the dressing over the salad and toss again.

Taste a spoonful—you may want to add more lemon juice, olive oil or salt. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, until the flavors have melded and the salad is chilled.

Tabbouleh is wonderful on its own or with classic Middle Eastern accompaniments: pita bread, hummus, olives, baba ghanoush…the mouthwatering list goes on.

It’s also a surprisingly good accompaniment to many main courses—try serving it with steak.

And you can vary the recipe in any number of ways: by adding chickpeas, chopped green peppers, fresh basil or crumbled feta cheese.

I’m telling you, this is wild and crazy stuff. Just watch that you don’t have too much fun.