One thing I have heard a lot of since I launched this site but six months ago is “I just don’t know how you find all that time to cook.” And while my typical response is that “Oh, well I don’t have a life so that makes it really easy,” and I’m only a little bit joking — my office is 13 blocks from my apartment, I rarely work past 6:30 p.m., I tend to wake up hours before my husband on the weekends, eager to fiddle with recipes that would otherwise be too time-consuming, and I don’t have the energy or the liver to go out many nights a week anymore — the truth is that aside from making some fresh pasta with about two pounds of wild mushrooms two Sundays ago, I haven’t cooked dinner for us in weeks. And I hate it.
You know the song; gym, errands, dinners and drinks and too many nights of getting home with no energy or, frankly, ingredients to start anything but pasta with butter and garlic, delicious but probably not the best bang for your caloric buck. If you are what you eat, I should be about 50 percent steamed vegetable dumplings, 30 percent black bean soup, 10 percent tofu pad Thai and an equal part mushroom, leek and goat cheese crepe by now, and while all of these things are excellent examples of the range of auto-dial food available in my part of the island, it does not mean that they are met with any less groaning as we pour through white container after container, creating a hideous amount of both waste and food ennui. Sure, things do get prepared in the kitchen — a biga at 11 p.m. on a Saturday, a soda bread at 10 on a Thursday, a cake on a Saturday morning — but nothing before 9 p.m., or you know, pretty much the point-of-no-return to start home cooked weekday dinners.
My apologies; I really hadn’t meant to bring on the tiny violins, I just had to vent the level of frustration I have being kept from the daily meditation of chopping salad ingredients, whisking dressings and preparing the kind of low-fuss, guilt-free food we all deserve on a Tuesday night. Though I had three errands to run last night and Alex has a work-related dinner, I swore that even if I ate at 10 p.m., the meal would be by my own hand. And for once, I kept this promise.
As you might have noticed through last week’s barley salad, I’m trying to wean us off the couscous, not because we don’t love it, I’ve just started to wonder why it has become our go-to grain when there’s such a wider range of textures, flavors and nutrients out there. Sure, couscous can be prepared in about 5 minutes flat, but soaking this fine-grained bulgur for all of twenty while I chopped the other salad ingredients doesn’t exactly make it prohibitively time-consuming for a tightly-scheduled evening.
I’ve actually made this salad before, probably over a year ago, but either I’m a total spice pansy, my cayenne is hotter than your cayenne (cha cha cha) or a half-teaspoon is really an assaulting amount for this quantity of salad but I found it aggressively over-spiced and actually inedible. (Alex, The Spice Junkie, loved it.) This time I used a 1/4 teaspoon and found it to have a more harmonious kick. I also added a handful of quartered yellow cherry tomatoes and a finely chopped small red onion, because no recipe is the boss of me (nya nya). One toasted pita and a few leaves of Bibb lettuce later, I had the whole thing finished and ready to eat in time to watch Edward Scissorhands! Wow, it’s been a while. He snipped (bouffants), I sipped (wine) and reveled in a plastic takeout container free evening at last. I believe we call that a good night around here.
Bulgur Salad with Chickpeas, Roasted Red Peppers and Spiced Cumin Dressing
Adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen
Serves 4 as a main course.
1 1/2 cups fine-grain bulgur
3 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
6 ounces drained jarred roasted red peppers, diced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup quartered yellow cherry tomatoes
1 small red onion, finely chopped (to reduce its bite, you can soak it and then squeeze it out with the bulgur for some or all of the absorption time)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1 medium head Bibb lettuce, leaves separated
4 pita breads, warmed and cut into wedges
1. Place the bulgur in a large bowl. Add the boiling water and set aside, stirring occasionally, until the bulgur has softened, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the bulgur, shaking the strainer and gently pressing out excess moisture. Return the bulgur to the bowl.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice, honey, cumin, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon salt together in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil until the dressing is smooth.
3. Add the chickpeas, roasted peppers, tomatoes, red onion and parsley to the bowl with the drained bulgur and stir to combine. Drizzle the dressing over the bulgur mixture and toss to combine.
4. Line each individual plate with several lettuce leaves. Mound some bulgur salad over the lettuce and tuck some pita wedges into the salad at several places around the plate. Serve.