Saturday, August 29, 2009

Corn, Tomato & Toasted Bulgur Salad

This sounds a little TOO healthy, doesn't it? I hate to do that, use a recipe title that comes off as too virtuous, or even use 'bulgur' in a sentence, really. I mean, it sounds hippie at best, you know?

I don't mean to use the word 'hippie' in such an insulting way. Honest. But when a long-time vegetarian is married to a devout carnivore, well, it takes a considerable amount of thought (and a little bit of concession) to make dinners palatable to everyone, both in form and function. I am not trying to convert the man, per se, but a happy medium is clearly in order, and feeding the man hippie food probably isn't the best way to further my cause.

So, um, I'm pretty sure I didn't mention the word 'bulgur' when I recited the menu to The Carnivore on the evening I prepared this salad. 'Tabouli with Fresh Corn' might have been the title I used for this side dish, because somehow the word 'tabouli' sounds so much less threatening really, than bulgur.

Truth be told, even I was a little nervous about this recipe. Bulgur has a bit of an off-putting smell when cooking, and has been served in any number of unattractive vegetarian dishes, so there were doubts. Doubts even here.

It's just that I've been in a bit of limbo with cooking as of late. The recession has made me nervous about spending money, so some compromises have been made in the shopping list, resulting in mad amounts of guilt on my part (I have ceased buying organic in some instances) along with a few overall sacrifices in flavor (less expensive cheeses just don't measure up).

We did join our CSA again this summer, and I pilfered my mother's garden when possible, but tomatoes have been scarcer than usual and farmer's market visits have been infrequent at best. So for much of the season, I have tried to wing it with our dinner plans nearly every day. Instead of planning menus in advance, and shopping for ingredients that may then languish in the pantry or fridge, I decided we had storehouses of plenty on hand already. There was seemingly no reason why I couldn't use our weekly CSA box and our pantry staples to make meals on the fly.

For the most part, this plan worked. And really, it would probably do all of us a little good to try and make do with what we have. I'm trying to live as thoughtfully as possible, and my constant goal these days is to be less of a consumer. So rather than finding new recipes online and then building my shopping list around the recipes, I've been taking household inventory and then searching for new recipes to go with what we've got. It's not rocket science, but the concept is counter-intuitive to what we've become accustomed to, I think.

During the summer, it is easy to fly by the seat of your pants when menu-planning, especially when blessed with the weekly harvest from our CSA's bounty. And this salad is exactly one of those pantry-and-CSA-box recipes. I had a bag of bulgur lurking in the back of the pantry already, and I always keep olive oil and a variety of vinegars around. So when I found myself with a boxful of tomatoes, corn and scallions from the farm, well, this recipe seemed like a gift from above, you know?

Of course, like I mentioned, I was skeptical, so I hedged my bets (as I often do with a new recipe) and planned this as one of a few dishes. We were having a vegetable plate night anyhow, with a mixed green salad and fresh vinaigrette, fresh green beans sauteed with garlic, and roasted potatoes. If this bulgur thing bombed, we would be in no danger of starving to death, especially since the greens, beans, and potatoes had all come from the CSA as well, and were as fresh as could be and just bursting with flavor.

Lo and behold though, The Carnivore and I both really enjoyed this recipe. The flavors were bright and fresh, and the texture of the toothsome grain was a sublime foil to the fresh tomatoes. The salad got better with time, as does tabouli, so next time I will plan ahead and make this earlier in the day so the flavors have more time to meld and the bulgur has more of a chance to soak up the flavor of the vinegar. When I ate the leftovers for lunch the following day, I practically licked the bowl clean. And it was delicious both warm and cold, so it is perfect for packing into a container and taking to work (or on a late-summer picnic, yes?).

The salad is also very, very healthy, high in fiber and protein, but there is really no need to give that information to anyone already skittish about hippie food...


TOASTED BULGUR SALAD WITH CORN AND TOMATOES (adapted from Gourmet magazine, serves 8)

Note: bulgur can be found in health food stores and in most well-stocked grocery stores now
  • 1 1/2 cups bulgur
  • 2 3/4 cups broth (or water, or a mixture of the two)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
  • 2 cups fresh corn (from 3 to 4 ears)
  • 8 oz fresh tomatoes, diced or chopped, seeds and juice removed (I used red and yellow tomatoes and they looked beautiful together in the salad)
  • 3/4 cup chopped green onions or shallots
  • 3 Tbs red-wine vinegar, plus more to taste
  1. In a large heavy skillet, over medium-high heat, toast the bulgur for 5-10 minutes, until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
  2. In a saucepan, bring broth & salt to a boil, and stir in toasted bulgur. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, until broth is absorbed.
  3. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat, and saute corn for 2 to 3 minutes, until barely tender.
  4. In a large bowl, combine bulgur, corn, tomatoes, green onions and vinegar. Add salt & pepper to taste, and add more vinegar and a little more olive oil if desired.
  5. Refrigerate, and let stand for a few hours for the flavors to meld. Serve warm or cold.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Spicy Quick Dill Pickles

We've been drowning in cucumbers around here lately, and much as I once loved the Asian Marinated Cucumbers recipe from last summer, well, it turns out familiarity really does breed contempt.

I never want to see another container of those marinated cukes again. Ever. Well, at least until next summer, that is. I mean, they ARE delicious and they do make the consummate snack for a sweltering summer afternoon. It's just that after 25 or so batches of them in a month's time, well...

The thing is, July turned out to be a lost month for me, so instead of putting up batches of pesto, freezing tomato sauces, and the usual summer harvest preservation activities, I have madly pedaled the race to try and use up our farm bounty before anything has a chance to rot on me. This tends to be a losing battle, of course, unless I employ each and every one of my OCD tendencies, and that has gone about as well as one would expect. Especially after the July we've had.

The day after I posted about that lovely Banana Bread with Dark Chocolate recipe, my appendix waged a sneak attack against me and by nightfall, I had three shiny new scars on my belly and an ugly little hospital bill to contend with. I was further shocked to discover just how little one can accomplish when one cannot use one's own abdominal muscles. And it is even more atrocious how much fresh-picked produce can decompose during the cook's painkiller-induced fog.

By the time all was said and done, four pounds of beets had been tossed into the compost heap, along with countless tomatoes, and two giant bags of cucumbers that had managed to grow beards of mold. Since those devastating losses (the produce, that is, not the appendix), we've lived on vegetable plates for dinner nearly every night, and when I found myself with yet another plethora of cucumbers, I dove headfirst into a towering pile of recently clipped seasonal recipes.

Something had to be done, and I was in no mood for a long, sweaty day of canning.

Before I had made a terrible mess of my desk, I lucked into a page on quick pickles that I had cut from the August issue of Food & Wine magazine, and while pickles don't tend to get me terribly excited, the very first recipe on the page was for Spicy Dill Quick Pickles. Look, if the word 'spicy' is in the title of a recipe, sans any other words that might pertain to meat of course, my interest is piqued. And this one was an exquisite little specimen, with an ingredient list that would not only NOT require a trip to the store, but would use four items that I had recently received in my CSA boxes.

This is the stuff love is made of.

So The Big Boy and I rolled up our sleeves, parked Little Miss Piggy in the pantry where she would be free to pull tea bags out of tins, upend boxes of granola, and rearrange the shelves (for the 973rd time that morning); and we commenced to pickling. And five minutes later, we had two quarts of these babies tucked into the fridge to do their thing for the next 24 hours.

I salivate over recipes like this. Ones in which you chop a few things, do a little stirring, and then stand back and let the industrious little ingredients finish the work on their own. If only dinner were so easy...

The jars were a thing of beauty. The quartered cucumbers were standing pertly on their ends, swimming in clear vinegar, and interspersed with sprigs of bright green dill, oodles of floating coriander seeds, cloves of garlic, and gorgeous halved chili peppers with their little stems still waving prettily. I must have opened the refrigerator door 17 times over the next few hours just to smile at them.

They were THAT sultry.

And so it was that I had barely finished my coffee the next morning when I just couldn't handle the wait any longer. I opened up one of the jars, inhaled the heady fragrance of the vinegar and dill, and chomped directly into one of the pickles, and oh my sweet stars, you know those little flying hearts that encircle the characters' heads in cartoons when they fall in love? I saw them.

The pickles had that crunch that is ALWAYS missing from store-bought pickles, and tasted perfectly of summer. They just oozed freshness. And the flavor had that elusive balance that I usually can only dream of. The pickles were a little tart, a little spicy, and just salty enough.

Like I said, this is the stuff love is made of.

And just as soon as I get up the nerve, I'm going to take a big bite out of one of those chili peppers that are floating amongst those pickles.


SPICY DILL QUICK PICKLES (makes 2 quarts, adapted from Food & Wine)
  • 24 oz cucumbers, quartered (if they are terribly seedy, trim off a little bit of the seedy part and discard it)
  • 3 Tbs kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 2 Tbs coriander seeds
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, halved
  • 4 to 6 long red or green hot chile peppers, halved lengthwise (you can use a mixture of cayennes, serranos, jalapenos, etc)
  • 1 oz fresh dill sprigs
  1. Pack cucumbers into two 1-quart glass jars.
  2. In a medium size bowl, whisk together the salt, sugar, vinegar, coriander and garlic until the salt & sugar have dissolved.
  3. Divide the brine amongst the two jars, pouring it over the cucumbers.
  4. Add one cup of water to each of the two jars, adding a little more water if the cucumbers are not totally submerged.
  5. Tuck the chiles and the dill between the cucumbers.
  6. Close the jars tightly and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. The pickles will ostensibly keep for up to a month, but I don't see how they would possibly last that long.