bulgur and butternut salad: an autumn tabouli

That was me, two weeks ago, floating in the Aegean Sea under that unbelievable clear blue Mediterranean sky.  Ok, that photo was actually taken floating in a pool which overlooked the Aegean, but you get the picture.  It’s strange to see the pictures now – they seem so long ago already, like peering into some long forgotten photo album.

Greece.  What a beautiful blur of clear water, black cliffs, ferries, white washed houses, big skies, wild dogs and cats, beaches, fig trees, and endless sunshine.  John took some incredible photos along the way, including the two above, which you can see here.

But now, back to reality.  September marks the beginning of some serious lifestyle change for me – I’m back to working full-time, or I should say full-time at one job, and officially mostly done with my days of patching together (more than) full time employment by taking on one too many odd jobs (read: contracting.)

Though technically still a private contractor, as of September 6, I’m employed full time for one whole year by Boston Public Schools, working for the Department of Food and Nutrition on some very exciting grant funded programs to better school food.  It’s mostly the same work I did last year on a part-time basis, just expanded.

The strange thing is I haven’t ever had a 9 to 5 Monday to Friday kind of job before.  Those of you who work in the food industry won’t find this hard to believe, but it surprises most people to know that at 28, this is brand new to me.  There are some clear benefits here: the mere anticipation of getting long weekends off now and then (without having to ask, or make special arrangements, or trade shifts, but just built into your schedule) is enough to make me dance around the house in joy. 

That said, there are a few simple things I miss from my life before the 9 to 5 routine kicked in.  Lunch is at the top of the list: I miss the ability to scramble an egg, slice a tomato over toast, or toss together a simple salad. I find myself lunch obsessed recently; I think about obsess over this meal more than ever before.  Dinners have become vehicles for lunch leftovers in my mind, so instead of thinking about what I want to eat in the moment or how to use up what’s in the fridge, I find myself thinking about what will keep well and make lots of leftovers.  Perhaps this is good practice for motherhood one day. 

Today’s recipe is part of my new lunch repertoire: lots of vegetables, filling, keeps well, easy to transport, and full of flavor.  The inspiration comes from a couple of outstanding grain salads we had while travelling where the vegetables take center stage and the grain is supporting.  This salad combines sweet roasted butternut squash, thin ribbons of fresh kale (see here for another raw kale recipe), nutty bulgur wheat, and crumbled feta cheese.  The whole this is tied together with Heidi Swanson’s aptly named “Magic Sauce”, a savory blend of garlic, olive oil, paprika, and fresh herbs.  Meal-worthy as is, I can also see this pretty bowl finding a home on my holiday table as a robust, easy, make-ahead side dish. 

One Year Ago: Creamy Eggplant Spread with Almonds and Yogurt

Makes one large salad.  Enough for 4 as a main dish and 6-8 as a side. 

For the Dressing

  • 1 recipe Heidi’s Magic Sauce – recipe here.

For the Salad

  • 1 small-medium butternut squash
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup coarse bulgur wheat
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 1 large bunch Tuscan kale (or any type you like)
  • 2 oz feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
  • 2-3 scallions, finely chopped (optional)
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Lemon juice for seasoning

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Peel and core the butternut squash, then cut into small cubes (about ½ to ¾ of an inch square.)  Place the squash on a baking tray, drizzle with the olive oil, and toss with a good pinch of salt and pepper.  Roast until tender and some pieces are beginning to caramelize – about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil in a medium sauce pan.  Once boiling, turn off the heat and add the bulgur along with a large pinch of salt.  Cover and let sit until the bulgur is tender and most of the water has been absorbed – about 20-25 minutes.  Drain and rinse well under cold water – press as much of the extra water out of the bulgur using your hands or a large spoon. 

Place the cooked bulgur and the roasted squash in a large bowl and set aside.

Wash and dry the kale well.  Carefully trim away the leaves from the thick stems, discarding the stems (here’s where we all need a resident chicken to munch on the leftovers!)  Chop the leaves into very thin ribbons – I do this by rolling several leaves together into a tight cylinder and then slicing through with a sharp chef’s knife. 

Add the chopped kale to the bulgur and squash along with the feta and scallions (if using).  Spoon in about two thirds of the dressing and toss well.  Taste for seasoning, adding more dressing, lemon juice, and/or salt as needed – I added a good squeeze of lemon and little extra salt.  At this point, the salad is ready to serve, but can also be refrigerated up to 24 hours (or even a little more.)  Before serving, bring the salad back to room temperature and taste again for seasoning – the bulgur will absorb some of the dressing, so you may need to add a little more.