If I could teach the world to cook…

August 5, 2010

Author: Neighborhood Farm Initiative

Category: General News Recipes

My friend Liz is really into urban farming. She is one of NFI’s fearless volunteer coordinators, and this summer one of her tasks was to help manage students doing community garden work as part of Mayor Fenty’s Green Summer Job Corps. What a program! (You can read more of my gushing about it here.) In any case, I stopped by one of the community gardens within Liz’s purview to help out with some weeding a few weeks ago and we got to talking. The conversation eventually turned to cooking, as it invariably does when I am around, and Liz invited me to come and teach a cooking class to some of her summer charges. It would be a meal that involved ingredients we could harvest, but also had to be something we could make without the use of heat. (There was no stove, oven, or even a grill at our disposal. Sure, I could have brought along the beercan stove, but I decided to approach the challenge head on. A seasonal, heat-free, vegetarian dish. Hmmm….)

Soon after I rolled into the garden, the NFI staff invited me to talk a little bit about my recent bicycle trip around the country to learn about sustainable farming. (Between you and me, I think the kids perceived me as a total wacko, but they were friendly enough and willing assistant chefs.) We took a lap around the garden to scout out and harvest what ingredients we could — sweet mint, spicy chives, and as much parsley as we could find amid the sprawling beds. Then it was time to wash up and start chopping. Together we would be making tabouleh.

It is a delicious dish that bridges traditional categories — most view it as a salad, but if you make it with a greater proportion of bulghur (a hearty grain used in Middle Eastern cooking) it becomes more of a starchy side dish. “What do you eat it with?” (The kids had lots of questions.) Well, traditionally it is part of a meal that includes grilled veggies, fish, or kabobs. And it’s often served with dolma, hummus, baba ghannouj, and pita bread. (Oh, if only we had access to a commercial kitchen I could show these guys how to make a real Mediterranean feast….)

In the end, I think the young adults enjoyed the tabouleh, though there was a general consensus that the big bowl of it needed more lemon juice. But that’s good. That means they’re tasting things and developing food preferences. And, hey, I am certainly not one to turn down the addition of lemon juice. After a big hug from Keshawn, I left as the young gardeners (and aspiring cooks) took out their journals to do a little writing. But I did promise to send along the recipe, so here it is.

In honor of my young culinary assistants, I give you…
Green Summer Tabouleh

- 1/2-1 cup of bulghur in a bowl of clear water for 1-2 hours.

Wash and finely chop:
- leaves from 2 large bunches of fresh parsley (about 2 cups of leaves, loosely packed)
- leaves from a small handful of fresh mint (about 1/4 cup, loosely packed)
- 2 spring/green onions (or substitute 2 TBSP fresh chives)
- 2 small cucumbers, peeled
- 3 medium tomatoes (or about 2 cups’ worth of cherry or grape tomatoes)

Drain bulghur, pressing out excess water. Toss with chopped herbs and veggies.

Stir in:
- 2-4 TBSP fresh lemon juice
- 2-3 TBSP olive oil
- salt and pepper

Enjoy your tabouleh with friends while admiring your garden! (And if you need a good recipe for hummus, drop me a line….)

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