Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Moroccan Sunset Salad

A friend of mine once told me that I'm really good at putting flavor combinations together (or something to that effect) - but I don't think that's true at all. I mean sure, I try and stick to using stuff that works good together- garlic, oregano, and various peppers in one dish, but leave the cardamom and cinnamon for something else. I know what sorts of dishes and flavors I like to eat, so I try and play around with some of my favorite foods and come up with my own sort of spin on them. That's kind of how I came up with this one. I came across a recipe somewhere (thought I had it bookmarked, but I'll be damned if I can find it anywhere now) for an orange-and-red-onion-and-kalamata salad. It consisted of: oranges, kalamatas, red onions, whole cumin seeds, and probably salt and pepper. It was very similar to this one, so it may have had feta in it too. I can't remember what, if anything, else. First time I tried it, it wasn't bad, but I wasn't excited about it, but a bunch of coworkers I made it for really liked it, so I tried it again a couple days later and liked it a lot more that time. This was right around the time that I happened to have some bulgur wheat at work left over from doing a party, so my mind was in salad mode. That, combined with my recent falling in love with cardamom, got me experimenting. The result is this salad. I'm calling it Moroccan Sunset (thanks to my friend Sally for helping me come up with the name).

I'm really, really proud of it, too- so many flavors and textures going on at the same time. It's easy to make, and everything in it is readily available pretty much everywhere.

Here's what you'll need:

1/2 c Bulgur wheat
1 c Orange juice
Orange segments, cut in half
Fresh red bell peppers, diced
Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
Toasted almonds, chopped
1 1/2 t Ground cardamom
1 1/2 t Chinese 5-spice powder
Whole fennel seeds, toasted

I don't have an exact amount for most things, but it's a salad- kind of hard to mess it up. Generally, though, I use just one orange, 1 pepper, and a handful or two each of the olives and almonds However, since I planned on posting this here, I did try and come up with a workable ratio for the bulgur/o.j./spice mix. I think I succeeded. But before I get to that, let's talk bulgur- unless you have a brand in mind that you really like, I recommend Bob's Red Mill. I've tried the bulk stuff at the grocery store, and my local co-op, and both pretty much sucked. I'm not familiar with other brands as of yet. Once I run out of the Bob's I have on hand, I plan to try Arrowhead Mills, but right now this recipe is written with Bob's in mind.

So- grab yourself 1/2 c of bulgur and stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons each of ground cardamom and 5-spice powder. Stir in the cup of o.j. (watch out for the cinnamon in the 5-spice- it can clump up, but usually mixing it with the bulgur first helps minimize this). Set aside until the bulgur is completely soaked. Usually takes 1 1/2-2 hours at room temp. There'll be some o.j. that's not totally absorbed by the bulgur; I usually add it to the salad at the end.
And that's about as technical as this 'recipe' gets. The rest is pretty much, literally, just throwing it together. Pepper(s) chopped? Almonds toasted? Olives ready to go? Then here's pretty much what I do:

Drain the bulgur (setting aside the leftover o.j. in case you plan on adding it later) and toss it in a medium-size mixing bowl. Add in some of the chopped bell pepper, a handful of chopped olives, a handful of sliced-in-half orange segments. Mix it all up and see how it looks. Add more of whatever you think you need/want more of. I basically just try to have somewhat equal-looking amounts of stuff (yes, I suck as a recipe writer, I know. No cookbook-writing in my future, that's for sure). When it looks good to you, add in a handful or two of toasted and chopped almonds (stay away from those almond sliver things- the convenience is not worth the extra cost and total lack of flavor. Whole raw almonds go for about $5/lb. around here and take about 8-10 minutes in a 400 degree (F) oven). After that, sprinkle with toasted fennel seeds and chopped cilantro (the reason there's no cilantro in the photos is because when I made that particular salad, it was for family members who think that cilantro tastes like soap, so I left it out. But if you like cilantro even a little, you're going to want it in the salad, for sure). Grab yourself a big ol' spoon and dig in. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised and maybe even amazed. This shit's for real.


Cooking Asshole said...

I would never imagine putting all those together. In fact, I still can't picture it. I would love to try it sometime just to be able to figure out why it tastes good.

How's it Taste? said...

There was a little bit of trial-and-error (thankfully not much. It all came together pretty quick); like with the bulgur, at first I used only cardamom and o.j. but that turned out to be a little overpowering. You may want to tweak the amounts a bit- I like mine a little stronger, but the ratio I used here, I think should be just about right so the taste comes through for the average person, but isn't too strong.

Definitely give it a try- other than segmenting/halving the oranges (which only takes awhile if you want to get rid of all the pith) it's a pretty quick and easy dish.