It’s not a conversation I’ll ever be able to live down, so I might as well tell you about it. It went like this, a few Junes ago, when we lived on Cape Cod, where there is no corn in June:
JIM: Wow! Corn on the cob!? Really?
JESS: Yup! Doesn’t it look great?
JIM: Where did you get corn this time of year?
JESS: (Looking sideways to see where her smart husband went.) The store.
JIM: No. I mean what country. Where did it come from?
JESS: Ohhh. California, I think.
There are a number of problems with this conversation: First, California is technically not a country. Second, corn usually tastes way better when purchased out of the back of a truck. Third, I was buying corn in June. Guilty. It’s just one of those things. Some people can’t stop themselves from buying Chilean cherries in January. I always buy corn before I should.
It’s become a bit of a joke between us. Anytime I bring something seasonal home – fat, drippy apricots, or heirloom tomatoes, or fava beans, say – Jim asks where it came from, and I tell him I got it at the store, even if I’ve just come straight from the farmers’ market. It’s our way of reminding ourselves that we can all be idiots, sometimes. We have a good laugh.
Last week, I spied soft, creamy cornsilk poking out from behind the bell pepper display, and couldn’t resist. At eight for $5, it wasn’t exactly cheap high-season corn, but I figured two ears were better than none in terms of satisfying my early-season craving, and better than buying a whole bushel, in terms of food miles. Into the cart they went, without a plan.
Then came the bulgur binge.
Last year was the summer of quinoa. We piled beans and avocado and tomatoes and corn atop big bowls of the stuff, or mixed it with vinaigrettes of all types, along with myriad summer vegetables, making glistening summer salads we could scoop in at all hours of the day. This year, though, I’ve decided my grain of choice is bulgur.
Bulgur has the unluckiest of grain names. Quinoa may be hard to pronounce, and even harder to spell, but it’s saved by its q; I’d love it on the basis of its Scrabble potential alone. Being easy to cook and delicious to eat seals the deal.
But bulgur. In a bag, it doesn’t look like much more than squirrel food, and what’s sexy about a food that rhymes with vulgar?
Lots, I think. Great nutty flavor, for one. And it’s cheap; I buy it in the bulk section of my local supermarket. It falls into the whole grain category, which means you can preen your feathers in nutritional self-congratulation while you’re standing in line at the check-out counter. Bulgur also bridges the gap between crunchy and yielding between the teeth, and accepts almost any flavor, like that rare woman who looks good in absolutely any color. (If I think about it too long that way, I get a little jealous, but I do love a food with flexibility.)
Recently, I’ve learned that bulgur can also stalk a person as well as any convicted sex offender. It’s been following me all spring, in fact. A couple weeks ago, my cousin Julia sent me a video of the tabbouleh dance:
I don’t really care if you think it’s funny (or not), or completely inappropriate (or not). It’s become clear to me that no one I forward it to seems to laugh as hard as I do. Which is fine. I never did have a normal sense of humor. The point – besides the fact that from now on, I will think of chopping a shoplifter’s hand off when I hack the stems off a bunch of parsley – is that the song is now deeply enough engraved in my brain that I’m singing songs to my son about changing his diapers in the same tune. Yes, the tabbouleh song has entered my nursery rhyme repertoire. And my husbands get-a-beer-out-of-the-fridge dancing soundtrack. And, it turns out, my kitchen psyche.
This video made me realize I’ve never actually made tabbouleh, that classic middle eastern mix of bulgur (which is cracked wheat, cooked by simply soaking it in hot water), parsley, tomatoes, and whatever else one likes to use. I wondered if I was missing something.
The day after Julia sent me the video, my friend Jon brought over a most delicious tabbouleh – one with the usual crunchy bulgur, parsley, and some mint, I believe, but instead of tomatoes, he’d folded in gigantic white beans. I took a modest portion at dinner, then focused on raving over the rest of our meal, partly because it very much deserved raving, and partly because I wanted to distract the others so there would be more tabbouleh leftover for me to snack on at midnight. It worked.
Then my mom got to talking tabbouleh. She even sent me photos. (See? Stalker.) This weekend, when I needed a side dish for a barbecue with friends, I put some water on to boil.
My bulgur salad was even faster to make than I suspected it might be. I soaked the grains, then sawed the kernels off a couple corn cobs, chopped some herbs, and crumbled feta. Into a bowl it all went. My husband grumbled something about salad for squirrels, and after being indoctrinated by the video, he insisted I couldn’t in good conscience call it tabbouleh since there aren’t tomatoes in it. A spoonful later, he was as smitten as I was. I won’t call it tabbouleh, but I will call it delicious.
Tomorrow, I’m going to make another version, this time with tomatoes and little chunks of mozzerella cheese, and perhaps balsamic vinegar instead of the lemon juice I used here. Maybe the next day, I’ll make another bulgur salad, with the fresh chickpeas coming into markets in Seattle. I see a creamy bulgur side dish in my future, too, and muffins studded with bulgur and fresh raspberries.
And oh, yes. Someday, there will be fresh local corn, and I’ll make this one again.
Though it satisfies like a pasta salad, bulgur salad requires a lot less attention (and less time near a hot stove, when summer weather hits). It’s also cheap, a bit healthier, and seems to get tastier after a day or two in the fridge.
To make the bulgur, you simply dump it into in a mixing bowl, add hot water, and let it soak for half an hour.
TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings
1 cup bulgur
1 cup boiling water
Kernels from 2 ears of corn
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped basil
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from 1 large lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Place the bulgur in a small mixing bowl. Add boiling water, stir, and let sit 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, blend corn, herbs, feta, olive oil, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Add bulgur, season with salt and pepper, and serve at room temperature.