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.
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
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon nigella seeds
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.