It’s been about two weeks now that my family have been in lock-down. We are hardly social at the best of times, so the enforced distancing, in our very rural neck of the woods, has meant very little to us. In fact, considering what is going on around the entire world, our lives here are embarassingly pleasant and trouble-free.
Oh don’t get me wrong, there have been some problems: the shops are out of the gin that The Author and I prefer, and we have resorted to a gin with fewer juniper notes. (I know!) And the lack of school for the kids (now actually all teenagers in various degrees of hormonal angst) means that The Author and I have to force them to go outside in the sunshine, otherwise I think they would moulder away with their phones in their withered hands.
Still, there is an upside to all of this. The scaffolding that was put in place for our now who-knows-when-it-will-be-started-let-alone-completed renovation has provided handy access to a flat sunny roof, which is where we will now grow our herbs. (This will also be — hopefully — a slug-free zone, which means that, as opposed to our herb-growing ventures of the past, we will actually have something to show for our efforts.)
Other upsides are increased time to get our house and garden projects done, to read more, to walk with the dog more (on our one-exercise-a-day regime), and to cook more. Well, I say cook more, but what I mean is to cook more at home. And some of the things I like to make are dishes that are easy for five different people, with very different schedules (anyone with teenagers knows that breakfast can be at 1:00 pm, and then lunch and dinner follow in quick succession) to dip into when they feel like it.
At the cafe, just before we closed for the duration we had started making Kısır, or Turkish bulgur salad, as one of our many salad offerings. I like to make it at home because although it has a long list of ingredients, it requires only a little of each one, which means it’s very likely that you’ll have everything you need to put it together. Additionally, it’s pretty easy to make substitutions for anything that you don’t have; I, for example, didn’t have fresh mint or dill (now you can see why my herb garden has suddenly taken priority!). However, I did have dried dill, which works in a pinch. I also had some peppermint tea, and the contents of a bag of that filled in quite nicely for the fresh mint leaves.
Turkish Bulgur Salad, from The Sofra Cookbook
serves 5-8, depending on hunger levels
I recently discovered this recipe in The Sofra Cookbook, by Hüseyin Özer. Although the book came out in 1998, I occasionally dip into it and find something that catches my eye that I didn’t see before. This salad totally escaped my notice until a few months ago, and although even I was a little daunted by the length of the ingredients list, I gave it a go and realised it all comes together pretty quickly. It is also packed with flavour, thanks to the depth of the nuts, the brightness of the herbs, the warmth of the chili, the sweetness and tang of the two peppers, and the rounding note of the bulghur.
It is endlessy versatile as well; you can have it on its own or scooped into a few lettuce leaves (this is so much better than the sum of its parts!), you can have it alongside a roast chicken, or chicken thighs, or as a base for poached eggs, or as part of a mezze platter with tomatoes, pita, cucumbers and some labneh… Give it a try, and I know you will figure out what to do with it!
Remember, too, that almost any ingredient can be substituted. I used herbal peppermint tea instead of mint, dried dill instead of fresh, and most of the time I leave out the white pepper because I don’t normally have it on hand. You could also use only walnuts or only hazelnuts, or swap out the hazelnuts for Brazil nuts. You could even use quinoa instead of bulgur if you don’t have bulgur or are gluten-free. More than any other substitution, this would alter the flavour, but if you like the taste of quinoa, you’ll be fine.
- 110g (¾ cup) bulgur
- 70g spring onions (about a bunch, using the white and green parts)
- ½ Spanish onion
- ¼ red pepper
- ¼ green pepper
- 30g (¼cup) walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 40g (¼cup) hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1.5 TB sugar
- 3 tb chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 TB chopped mint leaves
- 3 TB chopped fresh dill
- 0.5 tsp chili flakes
- 0.75 tsp paprika
- 0.5 tsp cumin
- 0.5 tsp white pepper
- 0.5 tsp black pepper
- 80g (1/3 cup) olive oil
- 3 TB lemon juice
- 80g (1/3 cup) tomato juice
- salt to taste
Put the bulgur in a large bowl and pour plenty of boiling water over. Leave for 10 minutes then drain and put back into the empty bowl. Hint: put the timer on for this, because you don’t want to forget about it and have the bulgur get mushy. When you drain it, the bulgur should still have some ‘tooth’ to it. As you mix it with the rest of the ingredients, it will then absorb more liquid and not only become softer but also take on the flavours of those added ingredients.
Wash the spring onions, and remove any dried or wilted parts. Roughly chop them and put in the food processor along with the two peppers and the Spanish onion (all roughly chopped). Pulse them until everything is uniformly small. Be careful not to over-process; you need discrete pieces, not puree. Alternatively, you can finely chop the vegetables into small pieces. I’ve done it both ways and I prefer the cut of the hand-chopping but the ease of the food processor. It’s up to you!
Add the chopped vegetables and all the other ingredients to the bulgur, mix well and taste for salt. It will probably need about ½ teaspoon to bring all the flavours together.
The salad is best left for a little bit (20 minutes or more) so that the flavours can intermingle. It will keep well in the fridge for up to a week.