Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bulgar Wheat Adventures

Bulgar wheat is not an easy ingredient to find, let alone explain and enunciate to multiple grocers who have never heard of it.

I got off work early this past Wednesday and spent some time -- the amount of which I had grossly under estimated -- shopping for a few last-minute ingredients for my the dishes I was going to prepare for Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's the next day. I was making Sweet Potato Casserole, Apple Pie, Cranberry Bread and Tabbouleh. Tabbouleh is another one of those things that most people have either never heard of or, of they have, hold very a strong opinion about. I personally adore the stuff; I could prepare and eat an entire mixing bowl of it in a single afternoon. The wonderful thing about tabbouleh is that it's really good for you. There is not a single cooked item in tabbouleh; it's completely raw, healthy and inexplicably delicious. The last of those descriptors is, of course, entirely opinion. You first have to like all the ingredients in order to love them all at once in a bowl of Tabbouleh, and some people just ... don't (more for me!). I was afraid Kevin's family would fall into the 'not so fond of tabbouleh' category; if they did, they were too nice to say anything. Except for Kevin's Grandma, God love her; she cannot feign "Mmm, this is good!" very well at all.

Wednesday afternoon. 3:03pm. I pull out of the garage at work and head for my first grocery stop: Tom Thumb. Thinking that Tom Thumb is the 'best' (read: most expensive) of all the grocery stores and seeing that the Tom Thumb just up the street from my house is a Signature Tom Thumb, I hoped I would be able to find some bulgar wheat without a problem. I find the other ingredients I needed (canned yams, parsley, prepared pie crusts) and ask 3 -- yes, 3 -- grocers where the bulgar wheat is. I spell it, describe it, and tell them what brand it will likely be packaged under. They don't have it. They don't even know what I'm talking about except to say that it's very, very rare and that only Whole Foods or Central Market will have it. Well, I don't live in a neighborhood with upper-middle class Prius-driving soccer moms or 60 year old residents who golf and insist on only organic foods, so neither is especially convenient. I try the Mrs. Baird's outlet just up the street since we had luck there in the past (they have an entire section of those Bob's Red Mill specialty items - muesli and flax seeds and such). No. Not this time. They have about 6 items with flax seeds in them and even a gluten-free brownie mix, but no bulgar. 

On to the next. I try Wal-Mart knowing in the back of my head it will be a nightmare to navigate the afternoon before Thanksgiving (the only time it's NOT is at 2am on Sunday) and they will likely not have any specialty ingredients like bulgar wheat. I leave, disappointed yet again.l

At long last I am able to find it at Albertson's. Finally! What is ironic and vexing about this whole situation is that I had, a week prior, purchased (for 18 measly dollars) a 10 pound sack of organic bulgar from Untimely delivery was set for the day after Thanksgiving. So I rolled my eyes and paid the $6 for a 28 oz sack and got to work in my kitchen. Everything turned out to my satisfaction, even though I was set back by over an hour because of all the unplanned grocery stops. Here are the recipes for all my Thanksgiving offering. Hopefully one of these years I will make my own turkey; I have yet to make a single Thanksgiving turkey!

Natalie's 'Famous' Apple Pie

Preheat oven to 375


I use prepared pie crust (brand does not matter). Set the package out at room temperature so the crusts can soften; they are easier to work with and don't tear when you unroll them.


Start by coring, peeling and dicing 6 medium-to-large apples. If you have one of these and your apples aren't verging on applesauce, you can save yourself a lot of time! I have one but my apples were too soft - they kept falling off the spike. I usually like using a mix of Gala and Granny Smith to balance each other out (sweet and soft vs crisp and tart) but I only had Gala on hand which turned out fine.

Once the apples are prepared and in a mixing bowl, add the following:

squeeze of citrus, lemon or orange - just a teaspoon or so (or a splash of OJ if you don't have fresh citrus on hand)
2/3 c brown sugar (to taste - I like the warmth brown sugar brings, but I like to taste the apple's sweetness, too)
2 T ground cinnamon (again, to taste - I'm fond of lots of cinnamon in my apple pie but some people probably hate cinnamon)
4 T melted butter
pinch of salt

Stir this all together til all the apples are well coated. Taste a piece of apple to see if the flavor suits you and modify as needed.

This year I decided to do something I have never done with my apple pie and add a handful each of golden raisins and dried cranberries. If you like, dried fruit or chopped pecans or hazelnuts make a nice addition; even some vanilla, subbing honey for the sugar, whatever. It's a dessert that works very well with substitutes.

Roll one of the crusts into a pie dish (if you like using deep pie dishes, prepared crusts aren't good for this; also you'd need to bump the recipe up to about 8 apples, and modify the other ingredients as appropriate). Make sure the edge of the crust meets the edge of the dish all around (doesn't have to hang over though) and pour in the filling. Even it out over the entire pie dish and then unroll the top crust onto the filling. Tuck the edge of the top crust down on the outside of the under crust and lightly press them both down onto the glass. Once this is done, go around again and crimp the crust with your thumbs (or press with a fork, etc - whatever design you like).

Bake for about 45 minutes. The crust will tell you if it needs more time or not. Look for a light golden brown all over and slightly darker brown along the edge. Let it cool to set a little before cutting into it.

Some people like apple pie 'a la mode'. I personally think apple pie is better without frozen sugar and cream melting all over it, but that's just me. Serve it however you like, so long as you enjoy it!

Cranberry Nut Bread

The easiest bread ever! Just buy a bag of Ocean Spray cranberries (they are at every grocery store this time of year). Follow the recipe printed on the back of the package. I DO make the following modifications:

1. Double the cranberry - it calls for 1-1/2 cups, but I use 3 cups (one entire bag)
2. Put the nuts (I use a mix of walnuts and pecans) into a food processor and chop before adding to the dough

This bread is SO good toasted the next day with butter or cream cheese.

Sweet Potato Casserole by PS

My good friend and co-worker PS was kind enough to share this recipe with me. She has made it for years and it's been a hit, even with the 'I don't like sweet potato' bunch. I suppose you can buy sweetened or unsweetened yams (canned), but I grabbed the only kind I saw which was 'Sweet Potatoes in Syrup'. For this reason, I cut back on the sugar. Otherwise no modifications to PS's original and delectable recipe. Enjoy!

Preheat oven to 350

Combine the following in a medium mixing bowl then place mixture into a greased casserole dish:

2 cans (29 oz) sweet potatoes, mashed
1/2 c melted butter
1/2 c granulated sugar (recipe originally called for 1 cup)
2 beaten eggs
1/3 c milk
1 t vanilla (I used about 2 teaspoons actually)
pinch of salt


In a separate bowl, combine the following, then sprinkle on top of the casserole.

1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c all-purpose flour
3 T melted butter
1/2 chopped pecans

Bake for 45 minutes or until bubbly.


Tabbouleh is a traditionally Syrian (Lebanese) dish though there are a lot of variations in Middle Eastern cuisine.

I find it entertaining that Lebanese chefs are recognized by Guinness for making the largest dish of tabbouleh on record. That's dedication!

3 c bulgar wheat
2-3 bunches fresh parsley, washed and dried (I leave them bunched instead of untwisting them; makes it easier to chop)
2 tomatoes, diced small
2-3 lemons, halved and juiced
1/4 olive oil, or to taste
salt to taste

Most traditional tabbouleh recipes call for mint and usually onions (green) but I have never made it this way. Of course you can adapt however you want - this is another recipe that allows for a lot of flexibility. 

Soak the wheat in water until soft; takes about an hour. I place a collender inside a large mixing bowl and line the collender with a paper towel. Then pour in the wheat and the water. This makes it easier to drain the wheat once it's softened. Remove the collender and pour out the water and let the wheat drain a while in the sink, then transfer to the now-empty mixing bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Taste the tabbouleh and add more lemon, oil or salt as needed. The amount of parsley is also a personal think. Kevin likes more parsley than I usually add; he's more of a traditional Syrian than I am apparently, as there is more parsley than bulgar in the original ratio. ;) 

Some recipes say to let it refrigerate for a couple hours or overnight, but I think it's ready to eat as soon as possible. However, it does 'season' nicely so the next day just add more citrus or oil to moisten the mixture and it's wonderful.

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