A Fast Start With Cracked Wheat Salad

Freiman is a New York-based food writer

Bulgur, or cracked wheat, is best known as an ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking, where it is commonly used for salads, stuffings and as a binder for ground meats. Yet somehow it has remained less well known than other wheat products such as couscous or the coarse yellow wheat flour known as semolina.

Bulgur is made from wheat berries that have been steamed, chopped or cracked into small pieces and dried. The texture of the bulgur can range from very fine to coarse. Wheat berries are the whole grain from which all-purpose flour is made. They are complex carbohydrates as well as rich sources of fiber.

Perhaps the most famous dish made with bulgur is tabbouleh, a salad of Lebanese origin, which contains chopped vegetables and parsley moistened with olive oil and lemon juice. When served as an appetizer in a Lebanese meal, the tabbouleh is scooped up with a chunk of pita, the Middle Eastern flat bread.

In this salad, the nutlike flavor of bulgur is heightened by the presence of lemon juice and mint, whereas vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumber provide pleasant crunchy notes.

The bulgur grain is easy to handle since it simply is soaked in boiling water and left to stand until soft. Bulgur is available in the health food section of many supermarkets, in specialty food stores and health food stores.

While the grain is cooling, vegetables can be perfectly and quickly processed for the salad using the food processor French fry disc.

This special disc is most often used to cut French fried potatoes, which are made by placing potatoes sideways into the food chute for processing. Since the cutting edge of the disc is shaped like a square, long French fries result.

When narrow pieces of fruits or vegetables are processed upright in the food chute, this same disc produces shorter, stubbier pieces, which (depending on size) could be described as a sloppy or elongated dice. The pieces are sufficiently uniform and attractive for use in salads.

Techniques for using the French fry disc are essentially the same as those needed for slicing. It is important to match the push or pressure to the texture of food processed, using gentle pressure for soft or watery foods such as tomatoes or cucumber. Keep in mind, however, that the width of the food being processed determines the length when the French fry disc is used. CRACKED WHEAT AND VEGETABLE SALAD

3 cups boiling water

1 tablespoon salt

1 pound fine-textured bulgur (cracked wheat)

1/2 cup firmly packed stemmed parsley leaves

8 to 10 mint leaves

1/2 pound cucumber, peeled, seeded and quartered lengthwise

1/2 pound firm ripe tomatoes, quartered

1/2 small red onion, peeled and quartered

2/3 cup lemon juice

1 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine boiling water and salt. Place bulgur in large bowl and stir in salted water. Set aside, stirring occasionally, until water is absorbed and bulgur cools, about 1 hour.

Insert metal blade in dry food processor. Process parsley and mint to mince. Change to French fry disc. Process cucumber and tomatoes with gentle push and transfer contents of processor to large mixing bowl.

Change to thin (2-millimeter) slicing disc. Slice onion with gentle push. Add to vegetables. Add lemon juice, olive oil and pepper to vegetables in bowl. Stir well and adjust seasoning to taste. Set aside at room temperature until 30 minutes before serving time, then stir vegetables into cooled bulgur, adjust seasoning and serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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