Wednesday, September 15, 2010

UnRecipe: Truly Tabbouleh

I attended a traditional four-year university and got a fine arts degree. Which basically means I alienated my parents and went to art school on their dime -- this still elicits confused looks from both of 'em when I try to explain what it is I do. But as a result of immersing my medulla oblongata in this artism (as Joaquin Phoenix would say), I was granted access to a treasure trove of interesting and creative folks. It’s been a few years since I left those halls of readin’ ritin’ and ‘rithmetic but have managed to keep in touch with some of those friends from those hallowed days of dollar pitcher nights at the favorite cowboy bars (I went to school in Tucson, AZ) and 80s night at Club Congress.

Whole grains? Don't be so bulgur! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Illustrator friend GB Tran and his wife Stephanie came out for a visit, while on their whirwind roadtrip throughout the western half of the country, including a stopoff at Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts to bring back a delicious voodoo jelly doughnut man stabbed with a pretzel and an outstanding Elephantitis apple fritter. They’re an adorable couple who I love to bits – he’s a comic book artist/writer and illustrator and she’s a yoga instructor. They live in New York. She’s vegan and he’ll eat anything, regardless of the face it once may have had, even if it’s the cartoon persona of a lasso-loopin' Mr. Twinkie sitting on the label. Come on, it’s the breakfast of champions and it kept us going into the wee hours of the a.m., working in the art school computer labs when we were as young and idealistic as our metabolism.

Voodoo sweets and vegan treats (and GB!)  - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I kind of like when vegetarian or vegan friends come for dinners. It’s a nice challenge to step away from one’s cooking comfort zone. I don’t like deferring to the lowly, flavorless pasta dish for those who eschew meaty-meats. For breakfast, I made fresh raspberry smoothies with silken tofu instead of milk and yogurt -- and it was lovely, so the heck with you soy naysayers. For dinner, I decided to look towards the Mediterranean and make something summery, flavorful and easy to recreate, as the very next night I was going to make the same thing for a different crowd of guests, all of whom were big meat eaters. The vegan dinner game plan was to make tabbouleh and serve with grilled vegetables, toasted pita bread and hummus, with a dessert of peanut butter soy ice cream. I thought about making an orzo or couscous salad, but the nice thing about using whole grains like bulgur wheat – the main ingredient in tabbouleh – or quinoa, is that it’s a great flavor sponge that won’t get quite as soggy or start to fall apart like pasta. I’m a fan of making things a day or two ahead, so tabbouleh it was, with an extra day of flavor marination in the fridge.

 Giant tub o' hummus, grilled veggies, and required grilling beer (for me) - Photos by Wasabi Prime

So what the heck is tabbouleh other than the fact it has bulgur in it? Luckily with the rise in health-conscious eating, getting a bag o' bulgur isn’t so tricky; chances are you can find it in the organic or bulk foods section of your grocery store. My UnRecipe tabbouleh basically consisted of about two cups of bulgur soaked in warm water until plumped up, then tossed with chopped kalamata olives, sliced English cucumbers, seeded tomatoes, a can or two of garbanzo beans, and several handfuls of finely chopped parsley and a bit of mint. Making it for non-vegans, I'd add crumbled feta, but it's fine without it, just add a little more salt.

Greens from Le Jardin de Wasabi - Photos by Wasabi Prime

One of the nice things about throwing a whole packet of parsley seeds in some outdoor planters is, during the summer you’ll never want for fresh parsley and to keep the plants from bolting and going to seed, make tabbouleh to get rid of cups’ worth of the stuff. I also threw in some fresh basil and some little baby onions because that's what the backyard farmers market had available that day. For flavoring of the salad, my magic formula is the zest and juice of two lemons, maybe 6 or 7 whole garlic cloves, olive oil, fresh or dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste, and buzz everything into a frothy dressing in a blender. It’s a lemony-garlic delight that is sure to keep the vampires away and the heavy acid should keep the vegetables or anything else that comes in contact with it from discoloring. It has to be mixed in a blender – I’ve tried doing this in a food processor and while it chops things up, the blender just does a better job of emulsifying the oil and lemon juice and prevents it from separating later if you’re storing it in the fridge.

Summer tastes delicious! - Photos by Wasabi Prime 

This anti-vampire cocktail is also what I used to marinate some chicken that was used the following night for grilled chicken skewers with an encore of the tabbouleh, roasted vegetables, pita and hummus. Overall, both dinners went over well enough with the different crowds of vegan and meat-eaters, and without the sacrifice of flavor and nor that nagging feeling of someone getting dietarily short-changed -- at least I hope not. Funny enough, for my friends GB and Stephanie, I was told Stephanie broke her vegan vow that year, sampling a bit of barbecue pork at a festival earlier that year. I thought that was a great testament to the seductive power of Homer Simpson’s Magical Animal. I certainly don’t wish I made a giant suckling pig instead of a bulgur wheat salad; if anything it was just a nice reminder that cooking without some ingredients can remind you of what you don’t really miss if it’s not there.

A rare night when meat gets second bililing to other dishes - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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  1. I would have love to have visited you for dinner. I'm a vegetarian so this is extra-amazing. Yum!


  3. Good Tabbouleh UnRecipe - I'm thinking it will get used at our home very shortly!

  4. I adore hummus and your pictures are beautiful and photogenic.

    I visited Tucson just last month. A very friendly place! :)

  5. Thanks for not using the pic of me crazily licking the empty donut box.


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