Herb bulgar wheat with currants and preserved lemon

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You can’t go wrong with this classic Middle-Eastern dish, with its abundance of fresh herbs, tangy zestiness and nutty grains. It’s a summer staple in my household when tomatoes are ripe and full of flavour and the bbq season is in full swing, as it makes such a great side dish – although obviously this year the season has got off to a hobbling start, with a paltry two bbq’s so far. However, even without regular bbq’s to encourage my tabbouleh consumption I still love to make it often because it’s such a healthy, fresh and lively tasting salad.

Tabbouleh is great on it’s own, as in this recipe, but it also makes a wonderful cooling accompaniment to aromatic spiced meat and fish; my favourite being tender pink lamb rubbed all over with freshly ground Moroccan spices. I also like to make a chermoula baked aubergine served with herb-laden bulgar (an Ottolenghi recipe I go back to time and time again). These tiny grains soak up flavours like a sponge so go heavy on herbs, spices and punchy flavours: pilafs, big hearty soups and stews all love a bit of bulgar.

So, it’s quite a versatile little grain and it also has the added bonus of being highly nutritious. When reading about the nutritional value of bulgar wheat I was amazed; I knew it was a whole-wheat grain high in fibre but it’s also rich in B vitamins, iron, phosphorous and manganese, too. These provide a whole host of health benefits such as improving hormone balance, energy levels, bone structure and metabolism as well as fighting against disease. It’s less processed than couscous and has a higher nutritional value than brown rice, so it’s definitely worth using this easy-to-cook ingredient in everyday cooking for health reasons alone.

Let’s go back to the Tabbouleh recipe. In the traditional recipe parsley is the dominant flavour with the bulgar taking second stage, but as I was serving this salad on it’s own I added more grain and sweet, juicy tomatoes to make it more substantial. Bulgar is available in fine, medium and coarse varieties but in Tabbouleh I like to use the medium coarse grain because I like the chewiness and extra texture it brings. Buy huge bunches of fresh herbs from Middle-Eastern stores as the mean bundles sold at supermarkets just don’t get you very far in this recipe – it’s definitely better to add too many herbs than not enough. My first attempt at this recipe was way off as I added too much preserved lemon and not enough herbs. Use the preserved lemon sparingly! My advice is to keep tasting the dish and add more if necessary – there should be a noticeable lemon undertone without it being overpowering. The tartness of the lemon is lovely with the slightly sweet currants, tomatoes and fresh cucumber.

But good news! The weather is beautiful this weekend and nothing on this earth apart from an apocalyptic event is going to stop me from having a bbq. In fact, the lamb is marinating in the fridge, and gin and tonic o’clock is not far away. And you can be sure this gleaming green and red salad will be almost finished before the lamb has even made it to the table. I can’t wait….

Serves 4

Ingredients
200g bulgar wheat
200g cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
2 mini cucumbers or half normal size, deseeded and cut into small dice
70g currants, soaked
20g parsley, finely chopped
10g mint, finely chopped
10g corriander, finely chopped
2 preserved lemons, flesh removed and rind finely chopped
Half red onion, finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
Half lemon, juice only
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Add the bulgar wheat to a bowl with the cumin and pour enough boiling water to just cover, stir and cover with cling film. Soak for 20 minutes and squeeze out the excess water. Fluff up with a fork and set aside.
  2. Put with currants in a small bowl and also cover with boiling water and stand for 5 minutes until plump, then drain and set aside.
  3. Add the currants to the bulgar wheat then combine all the other ingredients and stir well. Add some seasoning or more lemon juice to taste.

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