Monday, 11 May 2009

A picnic triad 1: Ottolenghi's kisir: a Turkish tomato & bulghur salad

It was time, once again, for the annual picnic in commemoration of dear friends H and Hi's meeting some 15 years ago--on a picnic. Coming around 10 days later than usual, the weather for this year's picnic was nothing short of spectacular.

I was still humming and hawing about what to make 2 days out, but remembered seeing the recipe for this this Ottolenghi take on the classic Turkish bulghur and tomato salad kisir (pronounced "kuh-suhr") on the Guardian website and thought it might go down alright.

I had made kisir before using Claudia Roden's recipe in Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon. Delicious though it was, it didn't really do it for my Turkish guests at the time. Then I had it in Konya, Turkey and all became clear. Claudia's version was a true salad (no cooking!) where the Konya version I had involved stove time and was no side dish.

Looking at my notes from Turkey, I see that the onions were fried in a copious amount of oil, the tomatoes (and red pepper) in the dish were in paste form, and peeled and diced cucumbers joined in the fun. In Konya, at least, kisir is a meal of itself. A great mound is placed on a communal platter and everyone takes his share, parceling it up in lettuce and other leaves, with maybe an extra chilli and a dollop of pomegranate molasses or squeeze of lemon for good measure. Heaven!

Ottolenghi's version more closely resembles that tart, tomato-stained grain dish (though minus the cucumber). I like this fairly sharp, so I've upped the lemon and pomegranate molasses. I also left out the chilli on the day as there were to be a lot of Young People at the picnic.

The Ottolenghi kisir has a pretty pomegrate seed and mint topping that adds a nice festive touch, but which I doubt is authentically Turkish. I packed the topping ingredients separately for the picnic and added them when we were ready to eat. Short of time, I didn't take washed lettuce leaves with me, but it might be fun to do that next time.

Here's a picture of the three dishes I ended up taking to the picnic. Recipes for the other two to follow shortly.

Ottolenghi's kisir

Serves 6-8 as a main dish or a great crowd as an appetiser

2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
60 ml olive oil, plus more to finish
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
90 ml water
400 g coarse bulghur wheat
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 lemon, juiced
6 tbsp chopped parsley (flat-leaf, for preference)
3 spring onions, finely shredded, plus an extra one to garnish
2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt and black pepper
Seeds from 1 pomegranate (optional, to garnish)
1 handful mint leaves, some whole, some roughly shredded

Cos lettuce, cabbage and other green leaves, to serve (optional)

1 In a large saucepan, sauté the onions in the oil until they turn translucent - about 5 min. Add the tomato paste and cook over medium heat for 2 min, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon. Add the chopped fresh tomatoes, leave them to simmer on a low heat for 4 min, then add the water. Bring to a boil, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the bulghur.

2 Add the molasses, lemon juice, parsley, chopped spring onion, chilli, garlic and cumin. Season, stir, then set aside until the salad has cooled to room temperature or is just lukewarm.

3 Taste, adjust the seasoning as necessary--it will probably need plenty of salt--and spoon on to a serving dish. Roughly flatten out the salad with a palette knife, creating a wave-like pattern on the surface, then scatter pomegranate seeds over and about. Drizzle olive oil over the top and finish with the mint and the extra spring onion. Serve with cos, cabbage and other green leaves for wrapping.


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