Turkish bulgur salad: a summer favorite
You know what? This year, I feel pretty cheated. I just read the other day that June was supposedly the hottest month ever recorded in history (since they started recording temperatures, that is), and yet, I feel like we haven’t gotten a piece of the cake up here in Denmark. Summer has been elusive at best, and we’ve only caught a few glimpses here and there of what could have been, a few sunny days, a few warm nights.
But it’s still July, and that means summer! And for me, summer means barbecue – and barbecue means salads! I love salads, not only the real, green kind, but also potato salad, pasta salad, couscous salad, and this one: bulgur. At some point, the recipe just kind of “showed up” in my family, and the salad quickly became a staple not only for our family barbecue nights, but also as a go-to dish to bring to potluck summer dinners or barbecue sessions. And it’s always a hit!
It’s loosely inspired by the classic Turkish “kısır“, a relatively simple side dish made from finely ground bulgur and tomato paste. The first time I ever tried it was actually in Luxembourg – I was doing project work there, and for lunch, we used to go to a place called “Orient X”, which had the best shish tavouk, hummus, flatbrad, and this kısır salad, which quickly became my favorite. As I wrote above, it’s quite simple in terms of ingredients, but it packs so much flavor that you can also just eat it on its own without growing tired of it.
The recipe I’m sharing today is my own interpretation of kısır salad, based on what I tasted in Luxembourg and my family’s recipe. I used coarse bulgur, just because I prefer the larger grains. This will work just as well with finely ground bulgur, and I’m sure you could easily subsitute couscous as well. I haven’t tried with other grains such as quinoa, but give it a go and let me know how it turns out!
You’ll need two special ingredients, but don’t worry, they shouldn’t be too hard to get your hands on. In Copenhagen, we have a lot of Turkish or Arabic greengrocers, who also carry some typical local ingredients, condiments, and spices. This will be a good starting point! The first “special ingredient” is pomegranate molasses, a thick, dark syrup made from pomegranates with a very distinct taste – not really sweet, a bit sour, all in all just quite intense – that I really like. It gives an amazing flavor to the salad, so I wouldn’t recommend to omit.
The second ingredient is a Turkish spice mix called “yedi türlü”, or seven-spice. It contains spices such as cumin, parpika, chili, and more. If you can’t get your hands on this, I suggest to use your preferred combination of spices, but definitely include a bit of chili powder, lots of paprika, and lots of cumin. Nutmeg, coriander seeds, and a hint of cinnamon would also work well.
So now you have all the important ingredients, let’s get started! The preparation time for this is about 30 minutes, but the salad needs to cool – first to room temperature (about an hour or so) and then in the fridge for another hour or two. I personally also think it just gets better with time – a great, quick lunch for the day after!
Turkish bulgur salad (kısır)
(makes one big bowl)
300g coarse bulgur (dry)
3 tbsp tomato paste
4 tbsp pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sambal oelek (chili paste) – if desired
1 medium cucumber
2 red bell peppers
1 handful fresh parsley
1 tsp Turkish “seven-spice”
salt, pepper to taste
Cook the bulgur according to package instructions. I recommend adding broth or at least salt to the water to give the bulgur some flavor. In the meantime, prepare the “sauce” by combining tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and spice mix (and sambal oelek). Stir to combine.
When the bulgur is cooked, add it (hot) to the sauce and mix well.
Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
When the bulgur has cooled down, taste a bite and see if more spice or salt is required – the bulgur can “suck up” a lot of flavor, so don’t be shy to add more.
Wash the cucumber (peel if preferred) and remove the watery seeds. Cut into small cubes. Wash the red bell peppers and cut into small cubes as well. Rinse the parsley and chop it as finely as desired. Add everything to the bulgur and mix well.
Don’t you just love these summery colors?!
Mix everything together well and refrigerate for about 2 hours before serving, then enjoy as a side dish for your summer barbecue or just a nice little salad for lunch or dinner. This goes really well with grilled chicken, for example. Yum!
I highly recommend to enjoy this delicious salad on your balcony or in the garden with a summery glass of rosé.
I guess you could also opt for an ice cold beer, if you’re so inclined.
I guess what I’m saying is there’s really no reason for you NOT to immediately try this out!
I’m also on the lookout for other recipes that use the pomegranate molasses, because (a) I love the taste, and (b) I bought a ginormous bottle that I somehow need to use up! Any ideas? Let me know!