05 August 2009

candlelight and iced rosé

A few years ago, I got my hands on a tub of harissa and decided I had to make something with it. Anything.

I would make tuna tabouleh, I decided.

The only problem I had was that I had never eaten any, nor consciously seen a recipe, or anything in that general direction. What I had in mind were half-remembered rumminations of... something, a salad of bulgur, herbs, and said harissa.

I had no recipe. More precisely, I had no idea of where I was going when I started throwing together the ingredients.

Even today I don't actually know if what I call a tabouleh actually IS one or not, though I am reasonably sure by now. If anyone of you knows more about mahgreb cuisine than I do, I'd really appreciate some help here.

But - and I bet you all saw that coming - my 'tabouleh' turned out great. A delicious, hot-sour-spicy summer fare that at least for German standarts is pretty exotic. When I am asked to bring something for a party, usually it is this salad I am asked for.

Also, you can make it in smaller quantities and make fresh tuna steaks instead of using canned tuna, and suddenly this dish turns into a great summer dinner, classy enough to be shared with someone special on a balmy august night with candlelight and iced rosé wine...

Ahem. Sorry.

Before I got carried away, I just wanted to add that bulgur, the cracked, parboiled and dried wheat is usually harder to find than its finer cousin couscous. You can use couscous just as well in this recipe, though the texture will be a little bit less appealing (at least in my eyes) and there will be a bigger risk of the whole thing getting a little soggy.

Bulgur will make for a more coarse, interesting salad, and I am pretty sure the difference will be worth a little time spend searching. Who knows what else you may find that inspires you, like that tub of harissa did for me?

tuna tabouleh
(serves 6 as a side)

250g bulgur (alternatively couscous)
500ml water

juice of one lemon
50g harissa
100ml olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

one bundle each of flat parsley, coriander green and mint
a small bundle spring onions
one can tuna meat
(entirely optional) one more lemon and some borage blossoms for decoration

Prepare the bulgur (or the couscous) according to the instructions on the box - usually, that will mean boiling half a litre of water, pouring it over the grains and leave it until all the liquid has been absorbed, usually no more than a few minutes.
Some types of bulgur may require cooking, much like pasta. Won't make a difference here, though.

Leave to cool a little and mix to fluff up occasionally.

Mix the lemon juice, the harissa, the oil and the spices until smooth. Pour over the warm bulgur and mix until evenly distributed. Leave to cool for a while, even over night.
Depending on the brand you get, the harissa can be rather mild or pretty hot, so proceed with caution. Rather take less harissa and more cumin and coriander.

Clean the sping onions and chop very fine. Roughly chop the herbs and drain the tuna.
As much as I am for lazy cooking - I really prefer to take the stems off the coriander, as they can be a little too much of the good stuff for me.
Also, nothing forces you to use canned tuna here - a fresh tuna steak directly from the grill is absolutely lovely on this salad, though maybe not really the point when you're preparing for a party. Or exactly the point, depending.

Mix the bulgur to fluff up again and correct the seasoning, if necessary.
It should be spicy and leave a nice, moreish tingle in your mouth, but shouldn't incinerate your palate.

If the bulgur feels too dry, add some more olive oil and / or lemon juice.

Right before serving, add the chopped onions, the herbs and the tuna, and toss until well combined.

If you want, you can decorate the salad with lemon wedges and borage blossoms.
I picked borage blossoms for four reasons: a) they are edible b) they are all over our garden in summer c) their taste goes nicely with the salad d) their colour goes so lovely with the blue bowl we always serve the tabouleh in. Shallow, I know, but soo pretty...

Serve lightly chilled with crusty bread and maybe some greek-style yoghurt with a little bit of mint. Doesn't really keep well beyond a day or two.

Can be varied with some canned or cooked chickpeas or some other legumes added to the mix for more texture.

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