Bulgur

Turkish Bulgur Salad

I have to be punished. I disappeared for the longest time again. Consider this a lame excuse, but I have been trying to adjust to my new life with a full time job, while juggling a zillion other responsibilities and projects my restless persona keeps creating for myself.  I felt a bit overwhelmed at the beginning, but things are much better now and life is beautiful. Even more so after I learned that Saveur mentioned AZ Cookbook among 55 great global food blogs! What an honor! I am thrilled, humbled, flattered, and grateful all at once. Thank you, Saveur!

I wanted to share something Azerbaijani in celebration of this honor, but since I promised the AZ Cookbook facebook fans  that I will share a bulgur recipe, I have to keep my word. But my next recipe… I will only say it is going to be Azerbaijani and very very delicious.

So, let’s talk about today’s recipe. It is for kisir, my favorite Turkish salad of all. It is made with bulgur that is first soaked in hot water until it is tender, then combined with other ingredients, including lots of fresh herbs, with parsley featured more than others. Kisir is meant to have a tang to it. This is achieved by adding either freshly squeezed lemon juice or pomegranatate paste to it, or both, like in the recipe below. This salad is easy to put together. It is very delicious and addictive. I know from my own experience and they say there is no remedy to cure me. Enjoy!

Turkish Bulgur Salad (Kisir)

Serves 4 to 6

There are perhaps as many variations of kisir as there are families in Turkey and everyone claims expertise:) Perhaps justly so, as kisir is amazing in any form.  The variations are, however, minor. For example, instead of adding chopped onion as is, sometimes it is first fried in oil, then added to the salad. Or, the onion is first  rubbed with salt, then squeezed to rid it of bitterness before tossing it with other ingredients. In another variation, no pomegranate paste is used whatsoever, and the tang is achieved by more lemon juice. I have tried bulgur salad with diced cucumber and tomato, chopped green pepper, and chopped dill added to it – you name it. Sometimes, either tomato paste or pepper paste is omitted, and in some variations none is used. The following is how I make kisir and I am happy with the results. If you want to add tomato and cucumber to your salad (I am not a big fan of these two in this salad), please seed them first – this will prevent the salad from becoming soggy from all the extra juices.

Ingredients:

2 cups fine bulgur (read about it here)
2 cups boiling water
1 tablespoonFUL tomato paste
1 tablespoonFUL red pepper paste (hot or not, to taste)
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 medium lemon
2 tablespoons pomegranate paste (called nar ekshisi in Turkey and narsharab in Azerbaijan)
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup chopped green onion
Crushed red pepper (adjust the amount of heat to taste)
Salt

To Serve:
Lettuce leaves

Bulgur

First, prepare the bulgur, using either of the 2 methods below.

Method 1: Put the bulgur in a medium bowl. Dissolve the tomato paste and the pepper paste in the boiling water and pour the water into the bowl with bulgur. Cover the bowl with a lid or a heat-proof plate. Set aside for 20 minutes, to allow the grains to absorb the water and to “cook.” Uncover the bowl. Make sure the bulgur has absorbed all of the water. Fluff the grains with a spoon or a fork.

Method 2: Put the bulgur in a medium bowl. Pour the boiling water on top. Cover the bowl with a lid or a heat-proof plate. Set aside for 20 minutes, to allow the grains to absorb the water and to “cook.” Uncover. Make sure the bulgur has absorbed all of the water. Fluff it. Add the tomato paste and pepper paste. Knead them into the bulgur with your hand until well blended.

Add olive oil, lemon juice, and pomegranate paste (in the picture above I am holding a bottle with especially delicious, tangy pomegranate paste that is imported to the U.S. from Azerbaijan and I received it as a gift – thank you, Elshan.  Azerbaijani pomegranate paste is available in some stores in California, and I will share more information with you as I receive it).

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Bulgur Croquettes with Walnut-Tomato Sauce

Remember the recipe for baked honey chicken wings that turned me into a selfish glutton? From the book laden with kid-friendly recipes? “Anne, Ben Aciktim” which from Turkish is “Mommy, I am hungry” is the name of the  book to blame. As the name suggests, it gives busy moms .. ahem.. (modesty aside) like myself, relief from raking their brains in search of recipes that would make their little ones happy. Being a selfish glutton, it so happens that I also look for recipes that would make me happy at the same time. For the second time in a row, the book proved that we can have it all – kids happy, the glutton mom even happier! These bulgur croquettes from the book are so darn good! They are even better dipped in walnut-tomato sauce jazzed up with dried herbs.

If you are not familiar with bulgur (alternative spellings: bulghur, burghul)  it is a form of whole wheat, that has been cleaned, parboiled, dried and crushed into small pieces. Because it has been parboiled, bulgur cooks very quickly. Depending on how fine the wheat grains are crushed, there are two main types of bulgur in the market – fine bulgur, good to use in meatballs and meat patties, and coarse bulgur, meant for pilafs. This particular recipe is made with fine bulgur which only needs a few minutes of soaking to become tender. The rest is easy. Scroll down to read the recipe and see for yourself. Enjoy!

Bulgur Croquettes with Walnut-Tomato Sauce
Adapted from “Anne, Ben Aciktim” by Sahrap Soysal

For the Croquettes:

2 cups fine bulgur
1/2 cup semolina (if not available, substitute with flour, but semolina is preferred)
2 cups  hot water (to soak bulgur)
1/2 pound (about 500 g) ground beef
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 medium onion, grated
1 egg
1 tablespoon sweet red pepper paste or 1 tablespoon tomato paste (or use a combination of the two)
1 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
Ground cumin, to taste (do not overdo)

1 cup corn oil, to fry

For the Walnut-Tomato Sauce

2 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled and pureed (if the tomatoes are not ripe and juicy, add 1 tablespoon tomato paste to the sauce as well)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic gloves, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon finely crushed dried mint or basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup walnut, finely chopped

First, prepare the croquettes: Put the bulgur and semolina (or flour) in a medium mixing bowl. Pour 2 cups of hot water on top and cover with a plate. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the bulgur is soft. Add the ground meat, walnuts, onion, egg, pepper paste or/and tomato paste,  salt, pepper and cumin. Knead thoroughly until the mixture is smooth and paste-like, about 5 minutes. Put the mixture in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Put the pureed tomato and if using, tomato paste, olive oil, crushed garlic, dried herbs in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the walnuts.

Now, make the croquettes. Taking an egg-size of the mixture at a time, squeeze it in your hand, shape it into a ball, then into a sausage. Continue in this way, until all of the mixture has been used.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium frying pan. Fry the croquettes in the oil, turning once to cook on all sides. Remove form the pan. If you wish, drain on paper towels. Serve with the walnut-tomato (you can warm it up or use cold) sauce.