Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta

I know it’s still only September, but I’ve already got Thanksgiving on the brain. Somehow, once the weather starts cooling down, it feels like one big slip and slide ride to the holidays. And as a foodie, Thanksgiving is definitely a holiday to look forward to. While I enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as much as the next person, I also love the idea of trying new recipes (especially healthier versions of classics) for the feast. Last year, on A Love Letter to Food’s Facebook page, I did a ten-day countdown to a healthier Thanksgiving, featuring ten different recipes for better-for-you sides and desserts.

This year I already know what healthy side I want to take to Thanksgiving: this Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta.

It may not bear much resemblance to mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, or dinner rolls, but stick with me. When we tried this recently as a side with grilled chicken, it was a match made in heaven. I can only assume the same for how it would pair with turkey.

If you’re new to bulgur, join the club. Though a variety of different grains have become available in mainstream grocery stores these days, bulgur hasn’t caught on as much as the “cool kids” of quinoa, couscous, and wheat berries. If you had asked me a year ago to tell you anything about this particular grain, I would have drawn a blank (except for an internal snicker at how its name sounds kinda gross, like “Aunt Tillie can’t make it to Thanksgiving because her bulgur is acting up again”).

The deeper I get into trying to follow a Mediterranean diet, though, the more new foods I’m exposed to. I now know that bulgur is essentially just hulled whole kernels of durum wheat. Translation: it’s a whole grain, and it’s good for you. It’s low in fat and sodium, extremely high in fiber. Plus, it has a pleasing chewy texture, soaks up marinades and dressings beautifully, and can be used in place of just about any other similar grain, like quinoa, couscous, or even rice. I’m a believer.

This Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta is adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Mediterranean Cookbook (which I’m LOVING RIGHT NOW and will soon be posting about!). It’s a no-cook recipe, as the bulgur kernels take a soak in lemon juice and water for 90 minutes to soften up to the point of chewy edibility. Once the soaking is complete, the now-chewy grains are tossed with grapes, feta, fresh mint, slivered almonds, and an olive oil-based dressing.

As a side for Thanksgiving–or any other meal–give this refreshing and different salad a try!


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Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta
A refreshing, healthy salad featuring high-fiber bulgur, grapes, and feta cheese.
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl (the bowl you intend to serve this salad in), soak bulgur in a mixture of 1 c. water, 1/4 c. lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cover and let sit for about 90 minutes, or until bulgur has softened and become chewy and no liquid remains.
  2. Meanwhile, make the dressing: in a measuring cup, combine 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, cayenne powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt.
  3. When all liquid has been absorbed in the bulgur, pour dressing over the grains and toss to combine. Add feta, almonds, grapes, green onions, and mint and toss again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook by America's Test Kitchen.

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White Bean Hummus

White Bean Hummus

We need to talk about beans. If I’ve never mentioned it before, allow me to say right now, standing tall with my hand over my heart, that I believe beans may be the perfect food. I say this not only because it will earn me points with other nutrition professionals (though they are pretty unanimously also in love with beans, as far as I’ve seen), but because beans are…

– High in fiber

– Low in fat

– Plant-based protein

– High in iron

– Super versatile

And, if you ask me, they taste pretty darn good, too. So I generally try to include them in my diet on a frequent basis. Casseroles, soups, tacos, salads, and even certain pasta dishes are great food items to drop some beans into. And I do mean that literally, not euphemistically.

White Bean Hummus

Lately I’ve been on a homemade hummus kick, but since I balk at buying any actual tahini (have you ever bought tahini? You have to buy like gallon at a time and it’s hella expensive!) I’ve been experimenting with recipes that don’t call for it, like this garlicky version with plenty of my dear wonderfood, beans! With two full cans of cannellini or Great Northern beans, this recipe makes a big batch, perfect for sneaking off into a closet with the bowl clutched to your bosom so no one else can eat it. I mean, for parties. PARTIES is what I meant to say.

White Bean Hummus

Seriously, though, this white bean hummus is my new favorite snack/appetizer/side. Even though I’ve scoffed in the past about how hummus and pita chips is everyone’s go-to, last-minute, classier-than-chips potluck contribution, the deliciousness of this version kicks it up into “bring this any time” territory. Mild white beans mixed with punchy garlic, lemon juice, cumin, pepper, and parsley creates the perfect edible yin and yang.

And finally, because beans didn’t have their own theme song, here is Brak from the ’90s Cartoon Network show Space Ghost to sing you a very special tune about them:

 

 

Print Recipe
White Bean Hummus
Mild white beans mixed with punchy garlic, lemon juice, cumin, pepper, and parsley make for a uniquely delicious hummus!
Course Appetizer, snack
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings
Course Appetizer, snack
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan, cook garlic in olive oil over medium heat until garlic begins to brown. Remove from heat. With a slotted spoon, scoop garlic into the bowl of a food processor.
  2. To the food processor bowl, add drained beans, lemon juice, cumin, parsley, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Process until smooth.
  3. Carefully pour in reserved olive oil while the machine is running and process until well incorporated.
  4. Serve immediately or store refrigerated in an airtight container. Enjoy with pita chips or fresh veggies!
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Bush's Beans.

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Oranges with Vanilla Syrup

Orange Salad with Vanilla Syrup

January in Phoenix brings many things: the Phoenix Open, the famous Barrett Jackson car auction, citrus fruits up the wazoo, and of course, snowbirds…

snowbird-7

But let’s get back to the citrus (because it’s not even February and I’ve already had enough of snowbirds).

As I always say, whenever this time of year comes around, Arizonans will do almost anything to offload their overabundant citrus fruits. Neighbors don’t want them, schools have had enough of them, and the food banks refuse them, because even the poor and needy will balk at lemons, oranges, and grapefruit breakfast, lunch, and dinner after awhile. We get to the point where we start looking around for a Citrus Drop-off Safe Haven, like they do for babies.

citrus-safe-haven

NO QUESTIONS ASKED!!!

So yesterday when the guy who takes care of our lawn all too eagerly handed me a shopping bag brimming with oranges, I knew I’d have to form a plan. Thankfully, the stars aligned and a way to use up my newly acquired citrus gift presented itself almost immediately: our church’s annual picnic. With my “G” last name, the church bulletin assigned me and the other A-L’s to bring a side dish to go along with the hot dog lunch being served at the picnic. I *could* have been a lame-o and simply dropped off the Little Orphan Oranges on the buffet table in the hopes that the good people of the church would find them all their forever families, but I decided to be a bit more responsible and make them into an actual side dish.

Orange Salad with Vanilla Syrup

This fresh and different stacked orange salad is the result. Sprinkled with almonds and coconut and drizzled with a sweet vanilla syrup, it’s a hybrid side dish/snack/dessert that disappeared fast from the sea of chips and same ol’ veggie trays at the church picnic. And since it came together quickly, easily, and attractively with minimal ingredients, I know I’ll make it again–especially when I have oranges to use up.

Orange Salad with Vanilla Syrup

Print Recipe
Oranges with Vanilla Syrup
A fresh and easy orange side dish for brunch or lunch.
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. Slice peeled oranges into equal pieces and arrange on a platter.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring sugar, water, and vanilla extract to a boil over medium-low, stirring constantly. Simmer 5 minutes, then let cool.
  3. Sprinkle orange slices with almonds and coconut, then drizzle with the cooled syrup. (If you have extra syrup, save for another use--I'm sure it would taste great in coffee!)
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Honey-Orange Cranberry Sauce

Honey Orange Cranberry Sauce

No matter your thoughts and feelings about canned cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, you have to admit it has a singular ability that is both fascinating and a little repellant.

I am speaking, of course, of the ability to slide out of the can completely intact in one fell swoop, and stand alone as a quivering magenta tower on a plate.

Sklooooooooooosh.

Boooooiiiiinngg.

fd8fe3b1324b0ad3ec6f7ba212d389f7352af6d7

There’s something vaguely disturbing about watching your food being birthed wholesale from its packaging in this fashion. Something, dare I say, un-CAN-ny? Or something just a little too reminiscent of dog food, perhaps. And while we’re on the subject, what’s IN that stuff? I’ll tell you: a whole lotta high fructose corn syrup (and possibly some kind of food lab Jell-O product they can get away with calling “natural flavor”?) I honestly don’t mind the taste of the classic straight-from-the-can Ocean Spray jellied sauce, but Real Talk: it’s not exactly made of wholesome ingredients, and it’s not the classiest item on the Thanksgiving table, with its sklooshy jiggle and the grooves around its circumference that give it away as canned every time.

Honey Orange Cranberry Sauce

So, this Thanksgiving, might I suggest a detour from the can? This homemade orange cranberry sauce is sweetened naturally with honey (not high fructose corn syrup like the wiggle-jiggle variety) and will give your Thanksgiving table a touch of class and a colorful sweet-tart pop. Plus, it’s super easy and smells AMAZING as it cooks. It’s even fun to make because you get to hear the ping! of the cranberries as they burst in the saucepan.

Honey Orange Cranberry Sauce

So go ahead and be the superstar of your Thanksgiving gathering by bringing this wholesome, delicious knockout. My guess is you’ll never go back to the canned variety again.

Skloooooooooosh!

Honey Orange Cranberry Sauce

 

Print Recipe
Honey Orange Cranberry Sauce
You'll never go back to the canned variety after you've tried this orange-flavored naturally-sweetened cranberry sauce!
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
cups
Ingredients
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
cups
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring all ingredients to a boil and cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have burst and sauce has thickened to your liking.
  2. Remove cinnamon stick and let cool. Serve immediately or store refrigerated in an airtight container.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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Rice with Almonds and Golden Raisins

Rice with almonds and golden raisins

Some restaurant meals are nothing short of mythical in their unattainability. You eat them and think, “This is why I eat at restaurants. Because I could never make these delicious truffle oil-infused french fries/bacon-wrapped seared scallops/whole grain pancakes with farro and spelt” at home. (That or “I could never take myself seriously buying ingredients like truffle oil.”) It’s part of why I’m willing to pay good money to eat out. Cause, folks, I enjoy interesting foods, but ain’t buyin’ no truffle oil at my local Fry’s Food and Drug…or farro and spelt. Or sparrow and felt. (P.S. Just so you know, another term for spelt is “dinkel wheat.” Take that, fancy foodies.) Plus, I don’t know how to wrap scallops with bacon, nor am I sure that I could get through doing so without eating all the bacon.

Sometimes, though, you eat a really exceptional restaurant meal and you think, “Huh, I bet I could make this at home without much difficulty.” Like this Mediterranean-inspired rice with almonds and golden raisins. This side dish has always been a favorite of our family’s at a local Middle Eastern restaurant called Flaming Kabob…a place which, I should mention because it’s bizarre and hilarious, was originally a 50s-themed 5 & Diner and the interior of which has never been altered one iota since the change of ownership.

flaming-kabob-cuisine

Exhibit A

mesa

Not even joking. This picture makes it look like some kind of apocalyptic sock hop is going down in there.

Anyway, despite its atypical appearance for a Middle Eastern restaurant (and the fact that we’ve never seen the place more than about 25% full, even on a Friday night) their food rocks, and after our last “Combo for Two” that fed our family of five with leftovers, my husband asked if I could try making the rice they serve with their chicken shawarma.

Rice with almonds and golden raisins

Well, sure! Why not? It didn’t seem like it could be that hard, since I didn’t taste anything super fancy in it and the ingredients seemed pretty straightforward. Rice. Almonds. Golden Raisins. Doesn’t sound too convoluted. And it isn’t! There really isn’t anything unexpected in this recipe, except for the lovely combination of flavors that gives it sweetness, crunch, and just the right savory versatility to accompany a variety of Middle Eastern (or other) dishes. For beef kofta, chicken shawarma, or even any plain dinner meat that needs some livening up, it’ll be my new go-to for a snazzy but simple side dish.

Restaurant meals, beware! I’m coming for you! (As long as you don’t involve truffle oil.)

rice with almonds and golden raisins

Rice with Almonds and Golden Raisins
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. butter
1/3 c. diced onion
pinch cinnamon
1 c. jasmine rice
1 3/4 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. sliced almonds
1/3 c. golden raisins
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Sauté onion until tender, 4-5 minutes. Add pinch cinnamon and stir.
  2. Add rice, chicken broth, almonds, and golden raisins. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Fluff with a fork and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4.