Basil Tabbouleh

Ross's note: This is a great alternative to those wimpy potluck salads. It's healthy, neat to eat, perfect for complete vegetarians, and only gets better as it sits. Not only that, I've brought this version to picnics and potlucks for at least 10 years, and have yet to find anyone who didn't like it--even if they've never heard of tabbouleh (also spelled tabouli). It's becoming more common in the Midwest. I prefer this basil recipe to the more common parsley-based salad. The only chore is rounding up and chopping all those vegetables and greens, but you can skip and substitute without too much worry.

1 cup bulgur
Boiling water to cover
8 finely chopped green onions, including 2 inches of tops
1 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 large diced tomatoes (red, orange, or yellow varieties)
1/2 seeded, peeled, diced cucumber
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Prepare bulgur with boiling water: Pour boiling water over bulgur in a medium mixing bowl and let the wheat absorb the liquid for 40 to 60 minutes. Drain the wheat in a colander. Place in a dry tea towel and wring out excess liquid. Place in a mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Ross's note: I skip the wringing, as it's a pain. I push it down in the colander instead. It makes the salad a little moister, but so what.

May garnish with romaine lettuce and yellow or orange tomato wedges.

More notes: Like other grain salads, this can be prepared several hours ahead. It doesn't droop or sour en route to the picnic. Indeed, it improves with extra time to absorb the dressing and seasonings. And the calories are just right, about 100 for a half-cup of cooked bulgur.

Bulgur (rhymes with vulgar) sounds Bulgarian but its origin is Middle Eastern. It's an ancient product of wheat kernels that are steamed, dried, then crushed into course medium or find texture. Medium grind is ideal for salads.

Because it has been pre-steamed, bulgur wheat requires no additional cooking for salads, just a period of steeping to fluff the grains. Great for camping!

Note that cracked wheat is something different. Here uncooked, dried, whole berries are broken into medium or fine bits that require extended boiling to be made digestible.

Bulgur should be stored in airtight glass or plastic containers in a dark, cool, dry place. Your refrigerator is a good choice; a freezer is better.

Ross's note: I've stored boxes of bulgur (also spelled bulgar) in the cupboard for a year or more with no discernable difference.

Traditionally tabbouleh is a combination of bulgur, lots of chopped parsley, lemon juice, oil, tomato, onion and minced mint.

(Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune, August 4, 1993)