Bulgar Salad – less is more
Grain salad for lunch or dinner
Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
I’m starting the new year with a dramatic change in my life. My nest, which has been happily filled with children for the last two decades, is now partially empty. One of my chicks left for college in the fall, and another one heads out next week. As anyone who has been through this process knows, shepherding children to adulthood is, well, a strange and confusing journey. On the one hand, this is what I have always wanted. On the other hand, it turns out I really like the people that have lived in my house, and I miss them terribly when they’re gone.
None of this is really unexpected, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the effect this exodus would have on my habits in the kitchen. After years of cooking almost round the clock to keep everyone fed, I suddenly find myself staring down whole pans of lasagna, bags of apples, and boxes of cereal, begging to be eaten. Who will eat all this food?
One strategy is to purchase and create less, and I’m finding that even a passionate cook such as myself can revel in the freedom of not having to produce a meal every few hours, every single day. There are evenings when I’m the only one at home come dinner time, and I’m happy to whip up a cheese omelet with a side of flash-sautéed spinach. I’m also re-discovering long forgotten shortcut meals from my days as a busy, working twenty-something – soup from the deli accompanied by a fresh quesadilla for dipping, salad from a bag topped with a tender slice of rotisserie chicken, and even beans and rice dressed with salsa, sour cream, and cheese for a meal that tastes great, comes together in minutes, and is made from things I have on hand in my pantry.
The other benefit of cooking for a smaller audience is that things last longer. Baked pasta makes a dinner, a lunch, and often another dinner. Same for beef stew, chili and enchiladas. As it is the beginning of a new year, I’m looking to return to good eating habits. After a season of reveling, I’ve worked to fill my fridge with healthy options. Regular salad doesn’t work for the long haul, since greens and other veggies tend to wilt and weep after even a few hours of bathing in a dressing. Whole grains, however, hold up in a marinade for several days and can then be combined at the last minute with more delicate vegetables.
The recipe I’ve shared here tastes good for days and makes enough to keep me in salads all week long. I’ve suggested a few standard salad items to go along with it, but almost any green and any vegetable would work well alongside this great mixture. If you’re looking to ramp up the protein, toss in some chopped chicken or turkey, drained chickpeas, or any other canned bean. The grain here acts as a subtle backdrop to whatever you might have in the fridge that needs to be used up. Sitting down to a lunch of this salad is simultaneously soul-satisfying and simple. As I eat it, I think fondly of the times when my kitchen is full, and enjoy the peace in the stillness that exists when it’s not.