WRITTEN ON March 26th, 2013 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Grains, Middle Eastern, Salads, Side Dish, Vegetables, Vegetarian, Zucchini

Last week I took Luke to a play date at my friend Kim’s house. She asked me to bring some kind of grain salad, as part of the grown ups lunch. I decided on bulgar salad with roasted peppers, zucchini and herbs, purely because it’s what I had on hand.

For the kids, it was PB&J’s on sprouted grain bread, spinach nuggets and garden burgers (did I mention that Kim is Holistic Health Councilor?! Check out her website here).

Of course, as soon as my friends and I sat down to our own lunch of  bulgar salad, arugula and chicken salad and roasted beets, the kids swarmed. Still covered in ketchup and jelly and all things kid-friendly (what? My kid’s a squirmer, I sometimes give up on a really good wipe down), they had a natural curiosity about what we were eating for ourselves. My son in particular seems to have the “I’ll have what she’s having” syndrome – which he absolutely gets from me. Good luck trying to eat a morsel of food in his presence without an insistent pulling on your leg, followed by a rather loud demand to be offered a bite of whatever you are munching on. I have to say, its my favorite thing about him (well, that’s a lie. I’m smitten so there is a laundry list of favorite things…but this is definitely on it!)

Hey, carpe diem, right? A swarm of kids who left a drum set and a gaggle of baby dolls in order to try beets and arugula? The iron was hot, so we decided to strike.

My first introduction to bulgar came from a childhood friend who was half Lebanese and half Afghani. I’d walk over to Mariam’s house and together we would make chocolate chip cookies from the recipe on the back of the Nestle Toll House bag; as American as you can get. But for lunch, Mrs. Ghani would pull a foil covered bowl from the fridge, and spoon out tabbouleh salad that was fresh and piquant and textured – and nothing like what we ate at home. I always loved that salad and remembered the flavors with a certain craving, but it wasn’t until years later when I had it again as an adult at a Lebanese restaurant that I learned what it was. As a 5th grader at Mariam’s house, I had enough sense (and a mother who drilled enough manners into my head) to just eat what I was served. And it turned out I really, really liked it. It never occurred to me to pitch a fit or ask for something more familiar. Maybe because I knew better. More likely because I knew if I just kept my head down and ate what was served I’d get a couple more chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven.

I’m so glad that Mrs. Ghani served me her home cooking, rather than yet another PB&J or grilled cheese (nothing wrong with either, they are both staples in our house). It awakened something in my palate as a child that I remembered for years to come. What a gift. This is why it’s so important to me to introduce my son to as many flavors as possible, as early as possible. You never know when you’re striking sense memory gold.

Looking around the table at Kim’s house the other day made me so happy. For all you hear about childhood obesity, kids who eat nothing but mac’n’cheese and chicken nuggets, here were four kids eating bulgar salad and beets for lunch. Happily. Granted my friends are generally adventurous eaters, and these friends in particular are health nuts. Still, I can’t help but wonder how many health issues could be solved by introducing our kids to tons of different tastes and cuisines early on. I’m not naive enough to think that my son is gonna eat bulgar and beets every day. There are already times when he wants nothing to do with something he loved 24 hours earlier. And I understand that I  as a stay at home mom, I have more time to devote to home cooking and trying out new things. But I hope to help him develop a healthy relationship with and love of food. Why not start now?

Later on that evening Luke scarfed down a bowl of chicken soup with spinach, sweet potatoes and quinoa for dinner. Followed by…a chocolate chip cookie.

Bulgar salad

Bulgar salad

Bulgar Salad with Veggies, Herbs and Feta (serves 6 as a side dish)

This is a guide. Using the dressing and the bulgar recipe, the sky is the limit. Use whatever veggies you have, or try chick peas for some protein .

1 cup bulgar wheat – I like Bob’s Red Mill Organic

1 cup boiling water

Salt to taste

1 large zucchini, diced

1 red pepper, halved and stem and seeds removed

1 large handful each or parsley, mint and dill, chopped

3 scallions, sliced thin

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

Juice of one lemon

1 tbsp Dijon

¼ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring the water to a boil and add salt. Put bulgar in a large mixing bowl, pour hot water over and cover tightly with foil. Lets stand 30 minutes while you prepare other ingredients.

Place pepper halves on a baking sheet under the broiler. Broil until the skins are black, about 6 minutes. Place in a separate bowl, cover tightly with foil.

In a sauté pan, add a small glug of olive oil, heat to medium. Add zucchini, season lightly with salt and pepper.  Saute until zucchini is soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add to bowl with bulgar.

Remove foil from peppers. Making sure they are not too hot, peel the blistered skins away. Chop the peppers and add to bulgar bowl. Add scallions.

In a small bowl, mix Dijon and lemon juice. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Slowly pour olive oil into mixture, whisking constantly. Pour dressing over warm bulgar and vegetables. Cover with foil, place in fridge for about 1 hour to cool. Add feta and herbs, toss and serve.

*Salad is best made a day ahead. Just wait to mix in the herbs and cheese until shortly before you serve.

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