Chew On This

Chew on This: Lentil bulgur salad is reminder of younger, fitter days

aweigl@newsobserver.comJuly 8, 2014 

Food writer Andrea Weigl and three friends after hiking to the top of Mount Rogers in Virginia.

PAUL ALONGI

Dear older, wiser readers, please forgive me for what I’m about to complain about: feeling old at 39.

In the last couple of months, I was diagnosed with bursitis. I’ve been saddled with a knee brace and have had to slap anti-inflammatory patches onto my left knee.

It’s not serious, but it’s been no fun being unable to have my 2 1/2-year-old daughter sit on my lap during story time because my knee hurts.

Around the time I started kvetching about my knee pain, a former co-worker at The Greenville (S.C) News, posted a 10-year-old photo of me on Facebook as part of Throwback Thursday. It was of four of us at the 5,729-foot summit of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia.

The peak is about 90 minutes north of Boone, N.C. We did a 3 1/2-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail to reach it, passing herds of wild ponies and taking in gorgeous blue-gray views of the mountains – and then we hiked the same distance back to our campsite.

The hike was part of an annual tradition with some former co-workers to go camping together one weekend a year. Often we would gather at Bryson City to hike the Great Smoky Mountains. During those trips, we shared the cooking duties. I don’t remember much about the food, except for an incident on the hike to Mount Rogers when a wild pony tried to eat my friend Paul’s granola bar.

One dish I always associate with those camping trips was a lentil bulgur salad from one of the Moosewood cookbooks. I remember making a huge bowl of this salad to take on one of those trips. It’s very hippie, vegetarian salad with lentils, bulgur wheat, peppers, onions and mint tossed with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing.

I made this dish often during this era of my life, tweaking it by substituting kalamata olives for black olives. I would add feta cheese and quartered cherry tomatoes. I always paired the salad with pita bread from Raleigh’s Neomonde bakery. I crave this salad when I’m trying to be virtuous in my eating; I suspect my recent cravings coincide with a longing for my injury-free days.

Those annual camping trips have fallen off in recent years as we all got married and started having children. But the Facebook post sparked a conversation about planning another camping trip for our families. I don’t know if and when that will happen. I do hope so. I would love to reconnect with these friends who had me laughing nonstop around many campfires.

I hope that when that trip gets scheduled, my knee will be healed. And there’s no doubt what dish I’ll bring.

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Lentil Bulgur Salad

Adapted from “The New Moosewood Cookbook,” by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed Press, 2000).

1 cup dry brown lentils, rinsed and sorted

1 cup raw bulgur wheat

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small bell pepper, diced

1 stalk of celery, minced

1 small red onion, minced

2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped (or 2 teaspoons dry dill)

2 tablepoons fresh mint, chopped (or 2 teaspoons dry mint)

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup kalamata olives, without seeds, quartered

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1 cup chopped walnuts

Pita bread, optional

COVER dry lentils with water in a small pot and bring to a boil; then reduce heat and simmer until tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes (slightly longer for French lentils). Drain.

PLACE bulgur in a bowl and pour in 1 cup boiling water. Cover tightly and let sit 15 minutes, until water is absorbed and bulgur is soft.

MIX olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, bell pepper, celery, onion, dill, mint, parsley, feta cheese, olives, tomatoes and walnuts in a large bowl. Add cooked bulgur and lentils. Mix thoroughly. Refrigerate. Serve either cold or at room temperature. Serve with pita bread, if desired.

Yield: 7 servings.

Weigl: 919-829-4848 or aweigl@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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