Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Zesty Argentine Tabbouleh


There are two things about the title of this post that should seem a little funky. The first is that the words "Argentine" and "zesty" rarely appear together in reference to food. I spent enough time in Buenos Aires to know that Argentine food, while many things, is certainly not zesty, spicy, fiery, or hot in any way. If you make it up north, near the Bolivian border, you might find a spicy empanada or two, but traditional Argentine food - criollo style - is pretty basic. Lots of pizza, pasta, empanadas, and bread. And dulce de leche. And beef. Lots of beef.

The second strange thing about the title of this post is that tabbouleh isn't often thought of as an Argentine specialty, zesty or not. Tabbouleh, in my mind, has always had a pretty specific definition - it's an herb salad (usually parsley) made with bulgur wheat, tomatoes, lemon juice, olive oil, and, sometimes, an onion. It is wildly delicious and healthy.


Which brings me back to this post on "Argentine" tabbouleh. While I was in Argentina, I often found myself hunting for foodstuffs that weren't bland or saturated in dulce de leche. I got sick of pizza and pasta pretty quickly, and huge slabs of grisly meat aren't really my thing. I tried an Indian restaurant in Buenos Aires once, and asked for my meal to be "as hot and spicy as the chef could make it," only to receive a limp-wristedly seasoned mess of dull, brown lentils. Most restaurants and corner cafes in the city boast similar menus populated by the afore-mentioned items, along with a few other things, like a tortilla de papas (potato omelette), or a "salad" (shreds of iceberg lettuce with some anemic tomatoes).

One day, though, I discovered what claimed to be a healthy, vegetarian restaurant. Could it be? A vegetarian restaurant in the steak capital of the world? Indeed it was. The place was small and cozy, and showcased some oddly-shaped and presumably whole grain loaves of bread at the bakery counter. I perused the menu, skipping over the ubiquitous "tartas" of spinach or corn and letting my eyes land on the tabbouleh. Starved for healthy food and whole grains, I ordered it.


What I got wasn't what I had expected: it had bulgur wheat, but instead of the parsley and tomatoes, it had chunks of carrot, green olives, and radishes. This certainly wasn't disagreeable, though, and I actually found my Argentine tabbouleh to be quite delicious.

So here I am now, in Boston, suffering through 90-degree heat and some nasty humidity. Weather like this puts me in the mood for cool salads and vegetables, and this morning, that Argentine tabbouleh popped into my head. I figured it was about time to recreate it, and eat it, fresh from the the refrigerator, with dinner.


I think I like this version of tabbouleh even better than the traditional version. The crunch and sweetness of the carrots, the bite of the lemon juice and radishes, and the meatiness of the olives all work wonderfully against the hearty backdrop of the cracked wheat. I've taken some liberties and added some zesty microgreens to the mix, which add both flavor and phytonutrients (don't know what they are, but don't they sound healthy?) to the dish. The whole thing comes together really quickly, and would be perfect on a picnic, at a barbecue, or for a summery lunch.

A few notes: I like to mix this salad only after the bulgur has cooled completely in the refrigerator. This prevents it from getting mushy or gummy, and ensures that the cracked wheat maintains is toothsomeness. To keep this dish authentically Argentine, I opted to use (gasp!) canned green olives. They're pretty pathetic on their own, but they have a mild earthiness that lends some body to this salad, and I actually really like them here. Go ahead and use your favorite green olive if you can't bring yourself to buy the can. But make sure they're green!


Zesty Argentine Tabbouleh

Salad:
1 c. bulgur wheat
2 c. boiling water
2 carrots
1 large scallion
4 radishes
1 oz. zesty microgreens (sprouts)
10-12 pitted green olives, from a can

Dressing:
juice from 1 lemon
1 shallot, minced
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
pinch cumin
generous pinch dried thyme, crumbled
generous sprinkling smoked paprika
plenty of salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Prepare bulgur: pour 2 c. boiling water over 1 c. bulgur wheat and cover. Let rest for about 30 min., or until most of the water is absorbed. Drain any excess water, and refrigerate the cooked bulgur while you prep the vegetables. Chop carrots, radishes, and scallion into small pieces, and mix together in a large bowl. Roughly chop the microgreens and the olives, and add them to the bowl. Mix in the cooled bulgur. To make the dressing, whisk together all of the ingredients, then pour over the bulgur mixture. Stir thoroughly to combine. Adjust for seasonings and either serve immediately or refrigerate.

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