Friday, August 15, 2008
Minty Lentil and Bulghur Salad
One of the problems with summertime is that hot weather often means a decreased interest in cooking, which doesn't necessarily equal a disinterest in eating. As the lazy afternoon wears on, dragging what's left of your ambition inexorably in its wake, empty tummies can turn into a serious nuisance. This is when a substantial grain and/or bean salad can be a lifesaver: if you make it in the morning, while everything is still cool and pleasant, it can sit contentedly in the refrigerator all day, just waiting for you to come along and eat it, preferably on a bed of leafy greens with a nice, cold glass of dry white wine.
Fresh herbs add something wonderful to salads like this, but be aware that, should you feel moved to make this in the winter, you can also substitute dried mint. Mint has a particularly summery taste, and we use a lot of it at my house, for the simple reason that we have so much, and thereby hangs a tale. First, the gentle reader should know that I come from a long line of gardeners; both my mother and sister are blessed with what the English charmingly call "green fingers," as opposed to just thumbs, which is all we get here in the States. In fact, I have an as-yet-undeveloped theory that this digital disparity may explain the overall floral lushness on the other side of the pond, but I don't want to digress. Anyway, the sad part of this story is that this green gene is apparently recessive, because whether the fault lies in my fingers or thumbs, I am the horticultural aberration in my clan: I can kill a houseplant at 20 paces, with the very kindest of intentions.
When I moved into my house, one of my homely domestic ambitions was to plant an herb garden, which I immediately did. It wasn't large or splendid, but it had a pretty wide variety of things, and I actually met with a bit of success, at least at first. Everything went south when I foolishly introduced (wait for it, gardeners...) mint into the mix; soon after, I had a truly magnificent mint garden, which continues to flourish to this day. Of course, this is still a very useful thing, and over the years I've developed a lot of recipes using this most aggressive of herbs. It's good for tea, mojitos, and Pimm's cup, but I think it's especially good in Mediterranean-themed salads like this one. Combining lentils, bulghur, bell peppers and---that's right, kids---KALE with a healthy dose of mint, it's fresh, nutritious and filling without being heavy. Be warned that this recipe makes a lot, enough for a party, or to feed off for a few days, so you can cut it in half if you want a more reasonable amount of food. The best part is that if you make it ahead of time, all you have to do is take it out of the refrigerator when you're uncorking that wine and everyone will think (okay, know) that you are a sorceress, a goddess, and the heroine of the dinner hour! Unless you're a dude, of course, in which case you can switch that to "sorcerer, god (in the classical, pantheistic sense) and hero." But enough talking: now, we cook!
Minty Lentil and Bulgur Salad
~ 1.5 cups green or brown lentils
~ 4 cups water
~ 1 stick cinnamon
~ 1 bay leaf
~ 2 cups bulghur wheat
~ 3 cups vegetable stock
~ 1 small bunch kale (or baby spinach), about 4 cups chopped
~ 1 yellow or red bell pepper, diced
~ 2 small carrots, diced; about 3/4 cup
~ 1/2-1 cup chopped fresh mint, depending on your mint jones (or 2 tbsp. dried mint, if it's winter!)
~ 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
~ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
~ 1/4 cup lemon juice, about 2 lemons' worth
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, tarragon, thyme, marjoram, and dill
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ In a saucepan, bring the 3 cups of stock to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in the bulghur, and cover tightly. Allow to sit about 20 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ In a separate pot, bring the 4 cups of water, the cinnamon stick and the bay leaf to a boil. Add the lentils and return to a boil before lowering the heat to simmer for 25 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked but still have some bite. Remove the cinnamon and bay leaf, drain and set aside.
~ In a large bowl, combine bulghur, lentils, chopped vegetables and mint.
~ Whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour over the salad mixture; stir thoroughly to combine.
~ Refrigerate for as long as possible before serving; I make this as much as 24 hours in advance, because the longer it sits, the better it tastes. Top with the pine nuts and serve on salad greens; it's equally good cold or at room temperature.