Toasted Bulghur Salad with Spring Vegetables and Lemon-Tahini Dressing

In London we have had one of the coldest, wettest springs on record. This morning when I went to the Marylebone Farmer’s Market people were heroically sitting in the nearby park wearing wool hats and scarves. I was wearing a winter jacket, and I was still chilly. Nevertheless, my circadian clock tells me summer is coming, or at least I think that’s why I have stopped craving big dark wintry stews and instead hanker after light fresh-tasting salads. This bulghur salad is a request from my sister. (I LOVE getting requests for recipes.) She apparently has a lot of bulghur in her pantry, and as it happens so do I: last week I crankily picked up a sack of coarse bulghur for 70 p from one of the innumerable Middle Eastern groceries that dot northwest London so I could meet the £5 minimum to use my credit card. But how fortuitous! I love this salad.

This is the first time I have tried toasting bulghur and I’m hooked: when toasted the grains take on a nutty, hoppy flavour and retain a slightly crunchy texture. The difference is unmistakeable; I can’t imagine eating bulghur any other way now. The salad has a tangy lemon-tahini dressing, plenty of fresh herbs, and I added toasted nigella and cumin seeds which lend a smoky dark note. For vegetables I used sugar snap peas and beans, mainly because that’s what I had in my fridge, but you can use any vegetables you want; I’m sure this salad would be delicious with chopped cucumber, or green pepper, for example. I’d recommend keeping the tomatoes, though.

The auspicious purchase

Ingredients

150 grams (1 cup) coarse bulghur

100 grams (about ¼ pound) French green beans

150 grams (about 1/3 pound) sugar snap peas

200 grams (about half a pound) cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered lengthwise (or sliced thinner, if you prefer)

A large handful fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

A large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons tahini

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1-2 teaspoons salt

Black pepper

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon nigella seeds

Method:

Toast the bulghur by heating it in a dry heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat and shaking the pan frequently, for about five minutes. It’s done when it’s turned slightly darker in colour and has started to release a nutty aroma, like toasted sesame.

Cover the bulghur with about three or four cups of water, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook, partly covered, for about ten to twelve minutes or until the grains are tender but still firm. Transfer to a fine mesh strainer to drain, and then to a bowl or tray to cool.

Blanch the green beans and snap peas in boiling salted water for two minutes, drain, and then chop into roughly one-half to one inch pieces.

Make the dressing by whisking together the tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and several decisive grinds of black pepper. (I used two teaspoons of salt; if this seems like too much to you, start with one, and then add more if you think the salad needs it.)

Toss the bulghur with the green vegetables, herbs, and dressing and allow to sit so the flavours can meld.

While the bulghur is sitting, toast the cumin and nigella seeds in a dry saucepan over medium-high heat until the seeds have started to pop and the cumin seeds turn golden. Sprinkle over the salad and gently toss in the tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve at room temperature, drizzled with a little extra olive oil.

Makes 6-8 servings.

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31 thoughts on “Toasted Bulghur Salad with Spring Vegetables and Lemon-Tahini Dressing

  1. This is innovative, Susan. Everyone in the Bay Area makes tabouli salad with bulghur, lemon, oil, cucumber, mint and tomatoes in season, but to add tahini to the dressing, toast the bulghar and add snap peas? Something new.

    • Thank you Sharyn. Of course I love the tabouli salad you describe (it’s such lovely hot weather food) but I wanted something a little less acidic with more heft, and I was hoping to do something a little different from the norm. I am glad I succeeded! I wasn’t sure how everything would work together but I am very happy with it.

    • Thank you Frugal! I love all my whole grains — I do love couscous (especially Israeli couscous) and quinoa but I adore bulghur. Have you tried baking with it? It’s lovely in breads.

  2. What beautiful photos, Susan! The colors are amazing! The salad looks bright and delicious. And those are seriously the coolest bowls I have ever seen. I love these kinds of hearty salads with hearty grains too!

    It seems as if the weather everywhere is nuts. We are on schedule for having one of the warmest springs ever. It hit 80° (26°C) back in late March/early April and the temperature has been pretty much parked there all season. It just scares me to think what the actual summer is going to be like. North American weather is brutal. No wonder so many colonists died!

    Seriously though, I’ll trade you weather!

    • Thanks so much Daisy! The pretty bowls were here in the flat that I’m renting and I’m so afraid of breaking them I only use them to style my food photos! Re the weather — I’ll tell you, I’m not a huge fan of hot weather but I am SO tired of wearing my winter clothes. I’ll be in New York in June, though, so maybe I’ll get a chance to experience that “summer” I’ve heard so much about. **SIGH**

      • Hopefully you will be able to get some sun on this side of the Atlantic!

        Definitely let me know when you are in town! It would be great to meet up if you have some time. There is so much you have to eat!

  3. Pingback: Top Mediterranean Diet Treats – Five Cheap And Easy Dishes

  4. Oh I love Bulgar wheat – the taste is almost creamily nutty. And i agree re the tommies, although I love to roast mine in some olive oil and chuck the whole lot in. And then add a dressing of oil, harissa, lemon juice and smoky paprika. It’s altogether sinful. I am loving your crunchy, fresh combo – perfect for the summer weather (I’m thinking hard summery thoughts right now).

    I wonder why it tastes so much better after being left for a while? Maybe the grain breaks down enough for it to absorb flavours?

    • I love bulghur: I think it is wrongly relegated to the category of ‘health food’ and written off as dull or bland. It’s anything but! If you do try this recipe, please let me know what you think!

  5. Just made this recipe last night. Loved roasting the bulgur before hand — great tip! The dish was a resounding success with my vegetarian husband and daughter.

  6. Sun’s finally been out these few days though, so you have great foresight (: Thanks for the tip on toasting the grains first, I should do that in future.

    p.s. Love your bowls.

  7. I use barley a lot in salads like these, although, I have thought about bulgar lately too. I’ll have to try your toasting technique on the barley next time.

    The weather has been pretty miserable in Seattle this Spring also, but it has been better than last year and it does seem like we’re pulling out of cold. You never know though, it is Seattle afterall.

    • Right after I wrote this post, the weather in London changed and now it is hot and summery. I know Seattle has already had a heatwave, maybe it’s due for another?

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