Have you ever gone on an incredible first date, the kind that makes you think, “where have you been all my life?!” You talk about him nonstop. You stalk his photos on facebook. Your calendar marks the days until your next date. Only on that next date, you realize he’s about as cool as a fart in an elevator? His jokes are lamer than Adam Sandler’s last movie. The conversation so boring you contemplate sneaking out the bathroom window. And is he wearing pleated khakis?!? But, you keep agreeing to dates, hoping to find that wit, charm and intelligence you first admired. Each date ends in disappointment. Finally, you break up, convinced the guy you first met was just the result of that extra glass of wine. Can you relate? If so, then you’ll understand my relationship with gazpacho.
Gazpacho and I first met on a family trip to England. Our first date was at the restaurant of this incredible 900 year old castle in Sussex. It was haunted too, but that’s another story. It came as the appetizer on our tasting menu. The first bite was a burst of flavor – sweet and tangy with a bright herbaceous essence. I fell in love!
Being so head of heels, I ordered gazpacho every time I saw it on a menu. But I wasn’t served the flavorful dish I remembered. Apparently, gazpacho is actually a bowl of under-ripe chopped tomatoes with too much onion, like salsa, minus the chips. So, I gave up on gazpacho. My memory of gazpacho’s amazingness was clearly a hallucination.
I made this recipe out of necessity rather than a desire to eat gazpacho. There was a little mason jar of bulgur that had been hanging around too long. And our garden was actually producing tomatoes, along with the oddest looking cucumbers you’ve ever seen. When I made this recipe, I wasn’t expecting anything more than a full belly and a little extra room in my pantry.
Then I tried a bite. Woah. This was the gazpacho I remembered! I’m no expert…or maybe I am…but I think the trick is cooking the bulgur in tomato sauce, which adds a slow cooked flavor to the cold dish. And I’m sure using heirloom tomatoes didn’t hurt!
I say tomato, you say…lycopene?
Lycopene is a carotenoid phytochemical that gives tomatoes and other red foods their color. Next to a rare, Asian fruit called gac (next goji berry?), tomatoes are the richest dietary source of lycopene . Most everyone has heard of lycopene’s role in prostate cancer prevention. But did you know lycopene has other benefits? There is actually more research demonstrating lycopene’s role in promoting heart health, where it helps prevent fat oxidation in the bloodstream and has anti-inflamatory effects. Another study demonstrated lycopene may play a role in maintaining bone health in post menopausal women. Lycopene may also help prevent age related macular degeneration, as those with the lowest blood levels of lycopene have double the risk of age.
Cucumber is often considered akin to iceberg lettuce and celery – low calorie, but not a lot of nutrition. Okay, so cucumber is no kale, but it’s more than water. Cucumbers are a good source of vitamin K and contains phytonutrients including flavonoids and lignans. One compound in cucumbers called cucurbitacin may have powerful anti-cancer effects. In fact, drug companies are currently studying cucurbitacin extract as a possible cancer treatment.
If you’re looking for a quick cooking alternative to brown rice, look no further than bulgur. Sounds exotic, but it’s actually made from a grain you probably eat everyday – wheat! Bulgur is common in Mediterranean, Turkish and Middle-Eastern cuisine. Being a whole grain and all, it’s high in fiber with about 4 grams in each 1 cup serving. If you’re watching your weight, bulgur is one of the lower calorie whole grains with 65 less calories per cup than brown rice and 75 less than quinoa. I’ve shown you how to make bulgur pilaf, but my favorite use for bulgur is mixed into homemade bean burgers, which gives them a more ground beef-like texture.
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup tomato puree
- ¾ cup medium bulgur
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1½ teaspoons hot sauce
- ½ cup chopped scallions
- 1½ cup seeded and chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup cucumber, chopped
- 1 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- 2 cups tomato juice
- Chili powder, to garnish Plain Greek yogurt, to garnish
- In a medium pot, combine the water and tomato puree. Bring to a boil and stir in the bulgur. Turn off heat, cover and let sit for about 20 minutes.
- Transfer the bulgur to a large bowl and fluff with a fork. Add the vinegar, garlic, cumin, salt, hot sauce, scallions, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell pepper and parsley. Toss together. Add the tomato juice and stir. Chill for an hour, then serve garnished with a scoop of yogurt and chili powder.