More mint, GF tabouleh, and a review

When I bought my giant bunch of mint at the farmer’s market to use for my milkshake experiments, I bought a giant bunch of parsley at the same time. There’s something about huge gorgeous bunches of fresh herbs that are almost impossible for me to pass up. Maybe it’s because I’ve always hated that $2 at the supermarket will only get you a teeny bunch with a few stalks of mint, so when I see a veritable bouquet of herbs for the same price, I have to take it home with me.

This of course leads to entire shelves in my fridge being devoted to herb storage, and then there’s the anxiety and pressure that comes from worrying that I won’t use them up in time and they’ll wilt and I’ll feel wasteful. (Yes, I know, I’m a high strung person these days…) The answer to the question of what to do with huge bunches of herbs is, of course, to make herb salads. One of my favorites, tabouleh, is something I haven’t had in years. Tabouleh is made with bulgur; people often ask me if bulgur is among the gluten-free grain options, but it’s not, sadly bulgur is actually the name for wheat that has been parboiled and dried. Another food that people ask me if I can eat is couscous. Most don’t realize that couscous isn’t a grain at all – it is made from semolina (wheat) flour, just like pasta. Couscous is teeny tiny pasta!

Staring at my mint and my parsley, I could just taste the lemony, herby deliciousness of tabouleh on the palate of my mind. (Is that a weird thing to say? You know what I mean, right?) I even had a bunch of cherry tomatoes leftover from making raw kale salad the night before. (I never buy tomatoes out of season except the few times a year I need a total health and yumminess infusion from raw kale salad, and then I’ll sneak a box of cherry tomatoes, which are the only decent-tasting tomatoes I can find in the off-season.)

So the big question that remained was what to use in place of the bulgur. I could use quinoa, which is a great go-to substitute, and which people use in place of bulgur and couscous and wheat berries, etc., all the time. But quinoa lacks a sort of soft quality that bulgur has. Because bulgur has been parboiled, when you cook it you are essentially rehydrating it, rather than really cooking it, and so it has a soft, chewy texture that is quite wonderful. I had recently picked up a new (to me, at least) product at Rainbow made by Lundberg Farms, a local rice farm. It’s called Roasted Brown Rice Couscous, and I assume it has been processed in some way and parcooked, because, like regular couscous, it cooks very quickly.

The rice couscous was perfect for tabouleh. The texture was a bit soft, fluffy, a bit chewy, and altogether delightful. I loved how quickly and easily it cooked up, and the “grains” of couscous absorbed the dressing well, which meant the tabouleh got more and more delicious the longer it sat. It’s been a few years since I’ve eaten regular semolina couscous, so I can’t compare the two closely. But I do remember that my favorite part about couscous was how fast it was, and that part definitely carries over here in the rice version.

To make my tabouleh, I used a wonderful recipe I found on the blog Whole Grain Gourmet. The author there talks about how she (he?) made tabouleh many times, and it was good, but never as good as what she had in restaurants. Then she made this version, which involves a tiny bit of cinnamon, and suddenly all the flavors came together in a way that was exactly “right.” I tried this recipe and had the same experience! The cinnamon makes all the difference. I loved this so much (and had so much parsley and mint) that I made several batches, and so ended up creating my own, slightly tweaked version of the recipe. The flavors are so clean and bright and fresh. The rice couscous feels light, not doughy or heavy. I could eat a mountain of this stuff (and I did!).

Gluten-Free Tabouleh Salad
Adapted from a recipe found at Whole Grain Gourmet

1 package Lundberg Brown Rice Couscous
1 1/2 cups minced parsley
1/4 – 1/2 cup minced mint leaves
1/3 cup minced green onion
2 tomatoes or a large handful of cherry tomatoes, diced
1/2 – 1 cucumber, diced

Dressing
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice (you may want to start with less)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Prepare rice couscous as directed on package. (It will take about 15 minutes plus time to bring the water to a boil.)

While couscous is cooking, whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl: olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Don’t put all the lemon juice in at once – I like my dressings to have a lot of acid, but I know not everyone feels the same way. Start with about half the amount and keep adding to taste.

Fluff couscous and put in a large bowl. Toss with the parsley, green onion, mint, tomatoes, and cucumber.

Pour the dressing over the couscous and toss until well coated. Refrigerate for about an hour before serving. The flavors will get even better if it sits overnight!

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Splendid

I would not cook so joyfully, nor clean half so willingly, without a public radio program called The Splendid Table. I download podcasts of this show from iTunes (a subscription is free, and all the archived shows are free as well – you can set yourself up with a Splendid Table bonanza and work your way through them, as I did) and listen to them in my kitchen as I clean and cook. A sinkful of dishes flies by, as does the prep for a three-course meal.

Now that I’ve worked my way through the archives and the show seems to be heavily in reruns, I have been experimenting with other radio shows to keep me company in the kitchen. KCRW’s Good Food is good, but doesn’t hold my interest so completely as Lynne Rosetto Kasper and her Splendid Table gang. This American Life is always absorbing, but there’s something about listening to food programming in the kitchen that just makes me really happy.

Tacos with cinnamon refried beans and cherry tomatoes

Last night I listened my way through a series of short podcasts made to herald the show’s new book: The Splendid Table’s How To Eat Supper while I gave the kitchen a much needed cleaning following a long weekend of friends and food. By the time I was done I didn’t have an ounce of energy left to make my own supper, but luckily that is the whole point of the book and these short podcasts – how to make your weeknight supper delicious and varied yet simple and not time-consuming. So I made my very first Splendid Table recipe, “Refried Beans with Cinnamon and Clove,” and then used those in tacos with the rest of the roasted tomatillo salsa, some of my new cherry tomatoes and some parsley.

Now the beans didn’t knock my socks off, but that wasn’t the point. They were tasty and filling and more creative than I would have come up with on my own at that point, and, best of all, I made them in a kind of mindless stupor and they still turned out exactly as they were meant to. I’m posting the recipe below, but what I truly want to share is the joy of this program, this absolutely free (I have donated money to American Public Media out of gratitude), absolutely addicting hour you can spend with someone who loves food and knows how to talk about it. Recipe follows… Continue reading

Simple Pleasures

As winter closes in, I find myself really craving comfort food. This afternoon, as I walked home through the chilly fog, I got a yen I haven’t had in years. I wanted tuna casserole, that ultimate comfort food, the kind with the crusty broiled top and the simple-but-brilliant filling of macaroni, tuna, and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup all mushed together and seasoned with nothing but parsley, salt and pepper. I don’t eat tuna anymore, and I don’t eat wheat pasta, and I sure as hell don’t eat whatever craziness they put in a can of Campbell’s, so my casserole tonight was a bit of an adventure, but in the end it came out perfectly and filled my tummy with warm, gooey, winter coziness.

[For the rest of this post, which contains no photo, follow the “more” link below:]

Continue reading

Sweet Potatoes and Cabbages

Yum. Thai red curry with pillowy sushi rice. More winter comfort food, for a California girl raised on pan-Asian comfort food, that is.

Despite repeated okonomiyaki sessions, I still had a ton of napa cabbage. And an untouched Wakefield cabbage on top of that. What would I do with this festival of cabbage that wouldn’t require long periods of fermentation or the application of corned beef?

After mentally combining my many cabbages with what remained of my box – a few sweet potatoes and carrots – plus a tub of tofu and a couple cans of coconut milk from my recent trip to an actual grocery store, the direction dinner was heading in seemed clear.

Thai Red Curry with Sweet Potato, Cabbages, Carrots, and Tofu