Sunday, August 23, 2015

A summer salad with a Mediterranean flair … Tabbouleh

For the past two years, my August cooking post has featured a summer salad. I decided to keep the tradition going and share another summer salad that takes advantage of the vegetables and herbs that are widely available from backyard gardens this time of year.
This year, I am featuring tabbouleh, a salad with Mediterranean/Middle Eastern origins that is becoming more popular here in the United States. Depending on the specific region of the Mediterranean or Middle East, tabbouleh takes on its own regional variations. The recipe I will be sharing here is somewhat of a conglomeration of multiple recipes. We enjoy this recipe, and I hope that you will, too. 
Before I proceed to the recipe itself, here is a little background on some of the key ingredients …
Bulgur - Bulgur is a Turkish word and refers to the hulled kernel of wheat, also called the groat. It is typically sold parboiled and dried. I've found bulgur wheat both in the grains and the organic foods sections of the grocery store. Here's a picture of what I usually buy, and here is a picture of a couple of large pots of bulgur parboiling in Turkey.

Bulgur is widely consumed throughout the Middle East, extending north into some of the Balkan states and east into India. Bulgur is a common ingredient in a number of both sweet and savory dishes. It is high in fiber and protein.
Parsley - Parsley is a well-known herb that is native to the Mediterranean region, but is widely used throughout the world. It is frequently used as a garnish, but is also used to flavor soups and stews. Parsley is also a great source of flavonoids and antioxidants. Parsley is also a home remedy for indigestion. If you have ever read Peter Rabbit, you may remember that after Peter had gorged himself on Mr. Macgregor's vegetables and was "feeling rather sick," he went to look for some parsley.
Mint - The good news about mint is that it is an herb that is very easy to grow. The bad news about mint is that it is an herb that can be very difficult to control. Their root system sends out runners which cause this herb to expand very rapidly. Consider using a closed container as shown in the picture if you want to limit the expansion of your mint. I grow what I term as "regular" or "plain" mint, peppermint, and spearing in my herb garden. The "regular" mint is what I use in tabbouleh. I like the flavor that it adds. Mint is also said to be able to relieve stomach aches.

Now here are the list of ingredients and directions:
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 1/2 cup boiling water
1 bunch of parsley (roughly 3 cups chopped) - see note below
1 bunch of green onions, sliced (include white and some green parts) - also see note below
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1 large cucumber, seeded and chopped
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
black pepper

1. Place the bulgur wheat in a large mixing bowl. Pour the boiling water over the wheat, cover, and let stand for about one hour so that the wheat can absorb the water. I have Tupperware mixing bowl that is probably over 30 years old. I like to use it for this recipe because the lid closes securely and helps retain the heat from the boiling water.
2. While the wheat is absorbing the water, chop up the parsley, onions, mint leaves, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. Here are a few notes regarding these ingredients:
Chopped herbs and veggies for tabbouleh
  • Parsley: Sometimes the amount of parsley I end up using depends on what I have available in the garden. If I am buying a bunch of parsley from the grocery store, I just use the whole amount unless I have a planned purpose for the rest of it. More often than not, if I don't use all of the parsley, I just end up throwing it away so I might as well just use it all up.
  • Onion: If you want to substitute a medium onion from the garden, go right ahead. I've used small-medium red or yellow onions, and they work just fine. Keep in mind that my garden onions are much smaller than the ones you buy in the store. Mine are typically larger than a golf ball, but smaller than a tennis ball.
  • Mint: I typically go out to the garden and pick a few stems. I then pick off the leaves, chop them up and decide if the amount looks like roughly 1/4 cup.
  • Cucumber: Go with what you have in the garden - two small cukes or a medium and a small are just fine.
  • Tomatoes: For me, this is a great way to use the multiple cherry tomatoes that tend to accumulate this time of year. If I am making tabbouleh in the "off-season," I will just buy a container of cherry or grape tomatoes at the store. If you don't have cherry tomatoes in the garden, no problem. Just chop up 2 or 3 medium-sized tomatoes. I would advise doing what you can to remove the seeds to avoid having your salad get too juicy. The halved cherry tomatoes tend to do just fine with the seeds left in.
3. After the wheat has adequately absorbed the water, lightly "fluff" it, and stir in the vegetables and herbs.
4. Prepare the dressing by mixing together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir these ingredients together, pour over the salad, and mix well.
5. Enjoy with other Mediterranean or Middle Eastern foods such as hummus, pita bread, or gyros.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Bees, Boats, and Blessings

This post is turning out to be much later than I had intended. July flew by much too quickly, and August is flying by as well. We have been blessed with a very full summer that also included a first time trip to Glacier National Park. We hope that you and yours have been enjoying the summer as well. Here are a few highlights of our vacation.
The colors of the wildflowers in the alpine meadows were stunning!
 We undertook an 11 mile roundtrip hike with a 1,600 foot gain in altitude to take in the beauty of the Grinnell Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake. 
Another spectacular view looking down on Lower Grinnell Lake and Lake Josephine. The beginning of our hike lay beyond Lake Josephine (the one in the FAR distance).

Back to some of my summer sewing projects …
For this post, I thought I would share a couple additional quilt rows that I have completed. As with some of the recent posts, these rows were created from kits I acquired from quilt shops in Utah during the Row by Row Experience event. This first one features bees and beehives and was designed by Quilts, Etc. in Sandy, Utah. Utah is known as the Beehive State so it wasn't too surprising that several quilt shops in Utah included bees and beehives in their rows last year. This was a rather fun row to put together using several homespun plaids and wool appliqué work. I liked the textures of the homespun and the different colors and textures of wool for the beehives. If you look closely, you can see that even the bee bodies are in different shades of yellow and gold. 

A great way to beat the summer heat is to cool off in the water, right? The second row I am featuring was designed by Pine Needles quilt shop in West Jordan, Utah. This shop is located in Gardner Village, which features a number of great shops. I like the "waves" in this row that are created by sandwiching a length of jumbo ric-rac between the row of boats and the row of "water."
Which brings us to the blessings …
Three weeks ago, I had the wonderful privilege of attending a Living Proof Live weekend featuring one of my favorite Bible teachers, Beth Moore. The event was in Boise, Idaho, about a half day's drive from our house. Even with the drive, the weekend was a tremendous blessing and has challenged me in my faith walk. Here is a recap of the weekend for you to enjoy. If the video link doesn't play, you can also view it here
Before the formal lesson began on Friday evening, we were challenged to imagine ourselves in the scene described in Matthew 14:22-33. The disciples are in a boat sailing to the other side of the sea. The boat has become battered by the waves, and the wind is contrary when they see Jesus walking toward them on the water. Jesus greets them with the words, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter, who tends to be the first to speak (what the others are probably thinking), responds by saying, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." Jesus responds with one simple word, "Come." The rest of the story is familiar to many of us - Peter does respond by coming to Jesus, but then quickly responds to what he sees around him and begins to sink. Jesus responds with an admonishment of, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
As I contemplated this passage, I was struck by a couple of new insights. First of all, Jesus didn't calm the waters before He called Peter to come to Him. He simply said, "Come." Am I trust Jesus and step out in faith even in the midst of the storms I encounter or will I hesitate, remain in the boat, and wait for the storm to pass. Secondly, when Peter stepped out of the boat, his feet were firmly planted on top of the waves. As I face circumstances of uncertainty and trial, do I really believe that Jesus provides the capacity to walk firmly on top of them?
As you, perhaps, are facing some uncertain circumstances of your own, I will leave you with these same words that Jesus spoke to a boatful of disciples who were battered by waves and contrary wind.
"Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Matthew 14:27