Recipe: Bulgur with Trapanese Pesto
In my continuing effort to educate myself on the evils of refined carbohydrates, I have been heartbroken to learn that potatoes rank very high on the glycemic index. They’re right up there with refined white flour. I never thought of potatoes as particularly refined. Summer potato salad is bad? What am I supposed to eat with my grilled lemon chicken? What about potato salad made with wonderful olive oil and fresh herbs? It’s better for your health than with bottled mayonnaise, but still not great. On the glycemic index—a number that indicates how quickly a food makes our blood sugar spike—a baked potato weighs in at about 80 out of a possible 100. That’s high. How depressing.
Maybe not so depressing when I think it through, though. Lately I’ve been trying to come up with delicious substitutes for my beloved summer potato salads. Whole grain is ideally what we should be aiming for, but I want my food to be pretty, not looking like a lump of brown mushy garbage, which is what whole grain dishes often resemble. I picked up a bag of bulgur at the musty health food store on my block. Bulgur is the cracked wheat used in many Middle Eastern dishes like tabbouleh. I like tabbouleh, but how could I make the stuff look appealing and, more important, taste Italian?
Whole wheat needs strong flavors. I immediately thought about Sicilian-style pesto, something I really love for both its forte and its freshness. Sicilian pestos are very different from the better-known Genoese type. This one, generally considered Trapanese in origin, contains almonds, mint, basil, garlic, and tomatoes but no cheese. I haven’t puréed it to a paste; rather I’ve left it rough, since that way the chunks look brighter after being mixed with the cracked grains. You can play around with the proportions. I like it light on the tomatoes, heavier on the mint and basil, which all blends effortlessly with the bulgur. And try it as a bed for grilled sardines or lamb chops. I served it with whole porgies that I picked up at the Union Square Greenmarket and pan-fried. It tasted lively, healthy. and very Sicilian—just what I wanted in the hot weather.
Bulgur with Trapanese Pesto
(Serves 4 as a side dish)
1 large summer garlic clove
1 fresh red peperoncino, roughly chopped
½ cup whole, skinned almonds, lightly toasted
½ cup mint leaves, plus a few whole sprigs for garnish
1 cup basil leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (preferably a Sicilian estate oil such as Ravida)
1½ cups medium or coarse bulgur
1 3/4 cups chicken broth or water
Place the garlic, peperoncino, almonds, mint, and basil leaves in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse about 3 or 4 times, or until you have a large, uniform looking chop. Transfer to a small bowl, and add the tomatoes, olive oil, and some salt, stirring everything well.
Place the bulgur in a serving bowl, and sprinkle it with a little salt. Bring the chicken broth or water to a hard boil, and pour it over the bulgur, giving it a quick stir. Cover the bowl with aluminum foil, and let it sit for about 30 minutes, or until the bulgur is tender and all the liquid is absorbed. Add the pesto, and toss gently. Garnish with mint sprigs.
Serve warm or at room temperature.