Bulgur Salad

A grain salad makes a great cold lunch in the summer. Here's a recipe for an easy bulgur salad, which you can use as a template for other grain salads.

Grain salads are one of my favorite summer lunches to take to work. You can make them in huge batches and eat them all week, stuffed full of whatever produce happens to be available. They’re cool and refreshing on a hot day, and you don’t have to jockey for time at the microwave. Plus, it’s easy to change the flavor and texture–try a new grain, use different oils and vinegars in your dressing, or mix in nuts or seeds for a little crunch. Add cheese or meat if you wish, or leave them out for vegetarian and vegan variations.

This post features a grain salad similar to tabbouleh, but beefed up with chickpeas and feta in addition to the veggies. (See the end of this post for a table of variations!) The base of this salad is bulgur wheat–a whole wheat grain that has been chopped up and partially cooked. It’s one of my favorite grains to work with because it only requires some time soaking in hot water to cook. After a quick drain, it becomes light and fluffy like rice or quinoa but has a mild taste and texture that I find similar to pasta. You can often find bulgur near the rice and couscous, or in the Greek/Mediterranean section of your grocery store. I used medium-grain bulgur here, but fine- or coarse-ground would be delicious as well.

Bulgur is a whole grain wheat product that's been partially cooked. Here I'm using a medium-grind variety. Fine- or coarse-ground bulgur would also work, but provide a different texture.
Sorry for the blur. Bulgur is a whole grain wheat product that’s been partially cooked. Here I’m using a medium-grind variety. Fine- or coarse-ground bulgur would also work, but provide a different texture.

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Bulgur Salad

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup bulgur
  • boiling water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1 tsp honey
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • fresh or dried herbs, optional
  • 1 large cucumber
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 oz crumbled feta cheese (I used Athenos Tomato and Basil)

Steps

Note: The major steps (in bold) also serve as a basic method for any grain salad!

  1. Prepare the grain. Place the bulgur in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water. (The amount doesn’t matter! Just cover it by 1-2 inches, and add more if necessary.) Let it sit for 30 minutes, or as indicated on the package. When the grains are tender, drain them in a wire strainer and cool to room temperature.
    The best thing about cooking bulgur is that you don't have to measure the water--just cover the dried grains by an inch or two.
    The best thing about cooking bulgur is that you don’t have to measure the water–just cover the dried grains by an inch or two.
    After about 30 minutes, the bulgur will have absorbed enough water to make it tender. Taste it before draining.
    After about 30 minutes, the bulgur will have absorbed enough water to make it tender. Taste it before draining.

    Drain the bulgur with a wire strainer and fluff with a fork.
    Drain the bulgur with a wire strainer and fluff with a fork.
  2. Make the dressing. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, and salt and pepper to taste until the dressing emulsifies. Taste and adjust if necessary (I like my dressing more on the acidic side, so you may want more oil or honey to balance it out). If you have fresh herbs on hand, chop up a handful and toss them in. Here, I used basil and parsley.

    Make the dressing in a large bowl and add ingredients as you go. Fresh herbs (basil and parsley here) are a nice addition.
    Make the dressing in a large bowl and add ingredients as you go. Fresh herbs (basil and parsley here) are a nice addition.
  3. Prepare the rest of the ingredients, adding them to the dressing as you go. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise (peel it first if desired) and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Dice it up and add to the bowl. Dice the tomatoes and add to the bowl. (You can also remove the tomato seeds if you wish, but I don’t bother. The salad does become more wet after a few days in the fridge this way, though.) Drain and rinse the chickpeas and add them to the bowl. Add the cheese.

    You may want to mix your beans or cheese into the dressing first to let it soak in some more of the flavor while you prepare other ingredients (I did not do this with the chickpeas for the sake of this picture!).
    You may want to mix your beans or cheese into the dressing first to let it soak in some more of the flavor while you prepare other ingredients (I did not do this with the chickpeas for the sake of this picture!).
  4. Mix it all together! When all the ingredients are chopped and ready, and the grain has cooled to room temperature, add the grain to the bowl and mix everything together. Refrigerate in the bowl or in smaller containers.

    Chill the salad for at least a few hours and give it a quick stir before serving (juices will accumulate in the bottom of the bowl after refrigeration--you can also drain these off if you prefer). Enjoy!
    Chill the salad for at least a few hours and give it a quick stir before serving (juices will accumulate in the bottom of the bowl after refrigeration–you can also drain these off if you prefer). Enjoy!

Variations

Dressing Grain Veggies Protein Extras
Olive oil, lime juice, garlic, hot sauce, salt and pepper Quinoa, rice, barley Tomatoes, corn, bell pepper, avocado Black beans, pinto beans or shredded chicken Feta, cheddar or other cheese; crumbled tortilla chips
Olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, fresh herbs, salt and paper Quinoa, couscous, rice Tomatoes, green beans, spinach or chard, carrots White beans, chickpeas or lentils Feta or goat cheese, almonds, diced red onion, dried fruit
Canola oil, a little toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar or lime juice, soy sauce Rice or quinoa Cucumber, avocado, carrots Shelled edamame or smoked salmon Sesame seeds or chopped peanuts
Olive oil, balsamic or wine vinegar, honey, Italian herbs, salt and pepper Couscous, barley, bulgur, pasta Tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, roasted peppers Chickpeas or cannellini beans Diced mozzarella, olives

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