Hearty veggie salad with many variations.

An e-mail newsletter last week from SparkRecipes highlighted a recipe that I knew I had to make for lunch, and soon. I loved the idea of it: a hearty, stick-with-you combination of bulgur and lentils, combined with herbs and veggies. But I didn’t love some of the ingredients, so I tinkered with the recipe quite a bit and came up with this variation. (See here if you want to view the original recipe for Herbed Bulgur and Lentil Salad.)

Bulgur is a cracked whole wheat that’s been par-cooked; it’s full of filling fiber. Bulgur is as easy to prepare as couscous; simply cover 1 cup bulgur with 1 cup boiling water, cover the bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. Lentils are quite high in protein (about 26% of the calories from lentils come from protein). Combined, they make a hearty base for an ideal lunchtime salad that’s gorgeous on the plate. Plus, it makes a bunch (about 6 or 7 cups, depending on your add-ins), which makes it an easy weekend fix that yields lunches all week long (it would be great for a potluck or picnic, as well; the recipe doubles easily). I haven’t tired of it yet; I trust you won’t, either.

Together (2 cups of each, cooked), bulgur and lentils form the foundation of this salad. The second key component is an easy dressing of 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup good olive oil. With the base and the dressing, you can then play with variations of add-ins to suit your taste. I’ll share the recipe, and then list a bunch of flavor combinations worth exploring.

bulgur, lentil and vegetable salad

2 cups cooked lentils (either prepare dried lentils according to package directions or use pre-cooked lentils; I like Trader Joe’s)
1 cup bulgur
1 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed to a paste
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
2 Tbsp. chives, snipped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Place bulgur in a large bowl. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and pour over bulgur; cover and let sit 15 minutes, or until bulgur is al dente. Fluff with a fork. In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Whisk to combine. Add bell pepper and herbs to bulgur/lentil mixture. Add dressing and toss gently to combine. Add walnuts and Feta; toss to combine. Serve at room temperature.

Now, here’s why I like this hearty salad recipe so much: The variations are endless. Start with the base of bulgur and lentils, and the dressing, and then play with these ideas or devise your own. These suggested vegetables and herbs replace the bell pepper; chives, thyme and parsley; Feta and walnuts in the above basic recipe. Unless noted, the measurements or quantities don’t matter; simply add ingredients to your taste.

Add 1 tsp. Dijon mustard to the dressing
minced fresh parsley
minced tarragon
black olives
diced cucumber
halved cherry tomatoes
steamed green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces

minced fresh parsley
chopped fresh mint
chopped cucumber
halved cherry tomatoes
Kalamata olives

1 tsp. ground cumin
chopped fresh cilantro
shredded carrot
diced bell pepper

minced fresh parsley
chopped cilantro
ground cumin
pinch of cayenne
cooked corn kernels
halved cherry tomatoes
queso fresco or Feta
diced avocado

The possibilities are endless. Nearly any green vegetable, lightly steamed, would be a good addition: peas, broccoli florets, chopped fresh spinach, zucchini (either raw or steamed). The original recipe calls for chopped red onion, which disagrees with me, but add it if you’d like.