Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Grill, Eat, Repeat

I’ve been feeling a little guilty lately. My indiscretion is one of the storytelling kind; it’s a result of my attempt to avoid a stream-of-consciousness narrative. Given that my mind is prone to acting like an unruly toddler most of the time anyway, I hope you’ll forgive me for trying to tell a more streamlined story.

Remember those Chickpea Patties that I made and Matt grilled? Well, that wasn’t the first time I’d made those patties. I’ve probably made them at least a dozen times before that at home, in my little nonstick skillet. But even before those patties made their way into my kitchen, I had them hot off the grill, crisp and smoky, cooked by my friend Andy. Andy is married to one of my best friends, Nicole, who I believe was the genius behind the vegetarian menu we had that evening: grilled chickpea patties tucked into pitas with tahini sauce, tomatoes, and a little something green (green peppers? lettuce? my memory fails me here). We ate those luscious little patties with the most delicious tabbouleh I’ve ever had in my life. A medley of grilled vegetables are dropped on the grill and then tossed with the usual tabbouleh suspects plus a most unusual (to me) addition: walnuts. That salad pushes all the right buttons: juicy, a little chewy, a little crunchy, bursting with fresh herbs. It’s expletive-level good. Wow.

After last week’s flurry of writing, I wanted to do something a little different, feature a voice other than my own here at Life, Love, and Food. Nicole kindly agreed to share her tabbouleh recipe with us, and the story behind the recipe. There are few people whose company I enjoy as much as I do Nicole’s; she’s been a best friend, confidant, go-to girl, fellow November birthday girl, and all-around amazing person to me since I met her way back when we were freshmen in college. Nicole is one of those rare people who, early in life, found an exquisite balance between head and heart, reason and emotion. She carries herself with maturity and grace, and she’s also one of the most fun people I know. Nicole and I lived all of ten steps away from each other senior year, sharing an apartment with each other and two other women. It was one of the most memorable years of my life, and she played no small part in making those memories. Now we live far away—she in Boston, me in Chicago—but she’s still one of my best friends. And she loves chai as much as I do, which just demonstrates how brilliant she is.

Nicole, thank you so much for sharing your tabbouleh recipe with me! You and it are wonderful.

* * *

Nicole writes:

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and I can finally go outside without a heavy jacket. That means SPRING!!! Finally! As soon as the first mild breeze hits my face, my husband and I look at each other with a single thought: LET’S GRILL.

In the spring, summer, and fall months, we take every opportunity to open our backyard to neighbors and friends for this quintessential summer activity. What could be better? Easy bantering with our favorite people over a slow-paced afternoon often turns into a wonderfully lazy evening. Grilling offers ultimate flexibility. Everyone can choose their preferred entree, ranging from the standard fare, like burgers and hotdogs, to more inventive options. Several recent experiments include pinwheel steaks (with sundried tomatoes, spinach, and soft cheese), grilled watermelon, and herbed red-skin potatoes.

In addition to presenting a variety of foods, grilling allows people to eat whenever they want. Certainly, there is something nice about sitting down for a meal with everything prepared in perfect timing. But I must admit to loving the easy style of grilling. You cook a bit, you eat a bit, you cook a bit more. People come and go, and the grill keeps smoking. You can sample the grilled foods and the many sides that friends bring to share. In the end, you might eat more than you originally planned. But it’s worth it!

One of my favorite grilled dishes is Tabbouleh with Grilled Vegetables. I first tasted this salad four summers ago with my mother-in-law, who is the most dedicated cook I know. After the first bite, I knew I was in love. I felt torn about what I liked most: the firm bulgur, the mushrooms, the smoky essence, tempered by the lemon juice and parsley? In the end, I decided that each element contributed an essential quality to this summer medley. Now, I make the tabbouleh salad at least once a month during the summer. It has become one of my primary summer rituals, repeated year after year with my loved ones.

This recipe is from Eating Well. I tend to increase the quantity of vegetables because their smokiness is so delicious. This summer, I may add different types of vegetables, such as summer squash, corn, bell peppers, or green beans. However, the original recipe is below. This salad is excellent as a side dish, but can also be used as a sandwich filling. I find that the leftovers keep well in the fridge for a day, if you don’t mind eating them cold. After a day, the salad gets a bit soggy.

Tabbouleh with Grilled Vegetables
from Eating Well
Makes 8 servings, 1 cup each (more if you add more vegetables)

1 cup bulgur
3/4 tsp. salt, divided
1 cup boiling water
2 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slabs
2 sweet onions, such as Vidalias, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
3 large portobello mushroom caps, wiped clean
2 cups cherry tomatoes (I actually use grape tomatoes because I like them more)
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

1) Place bulgur and 1/2 tsp. salt in a large, heat-proof bowl. Add the boiling water and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and let soak until tender and the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes.
2) Meanwhile, preheat the grill to medium-high. Place a fine-mesh nonstick grill topper (i.e., a grilling wok) on the grill to heat.
3) Place the zucchini, onions, portobellos, and tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush both sides of the vegetables with 1 tbsp. of olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper to taste.
4) Working in batches, grill the vegetables until tender, turning once or twice. Allow 8-10 minutes for zucchini and onions, 6-8 minutes for the mushrooms, and 2-3 minutes for the tomatoes.
5) Toast the walnuts in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Be careful not to burn them--very unappetizing!
6) When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, coarsely chop the zucchini, onions, and mushrooms. Cut the tomatoes in half.
7) When the bulgur is tender, add the remaining 2 tbsp. of olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, and mint. Toss to mix. Add the vegetables and toss again to mix. Sprinkle with walnuts and serve.


daphna said...

Oh wow, this sounds amazing! Incidentally, I just made tabbouleh tonight for the first time. I certainly will be trying this new twist next time though!

JD said...

Yeah for Nicole's guest blogging! I come from such a traditionally meat based family, the ability to GRILL veggies is a foreign concept. We might have to give this a try though. Summer is wonderful!

Rosiecat said...

Indeed, hurray for Nicole's essay and her delicious tabbouleh!

D, as we discussed this morning, we totally need to make this at our next cooking party. This tabbouleh has "party" written all over it.

JD, I know the vegetable thing is a challenge for you. But if you are into grilling meats, you can definitely make a batch of Nicole's tabbouleh as a side dish. Then you get the best of both worlds!

And how timely is this: today is Nicole and Andy's anniversary. Happy anniversary, you two love birds!

Nick said...

Grill grill grill! There's nothing like it. Man o man do I love bulgur. I've been using bulgur every time I need some starch or grain in my meal. Making a tabbouleh with it? Awesome! Hey, you've been awarded and tagged!

Rosiecat said...

Nick, bulgur is such a fun grain. I like it a lot, too. It's a nice change of pace from bread or rice, and its delightfully chewy texture is just lovely.

Ooh, awarded AND tagged? Oh my! I'll get to work on those questions and think about who I'd like to honor with their very own Arty Rooster (or whatever that badge is). Thank you, Nick!