For a Rainy Day

October 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve been trying to delay gratification in more parts of my life. I long increasingly for the pleasures of anticipation that I associate with a childhood of piggy-banks, where the pound coins from the Friday pocket-money-handover, and the heptagonal fifty pences slipped on the side by grandparents, and grubby pennies from the street were all squirreled away for the proverbial rainy day. The end goals of such saving evolved over the years: the cabbage patch kid mutating into a ballet-pink-framed bike, into a ZX Spectrum, into a black chiffon-sheer blouse from Tammy Girl, and eventually into 34 hours on a coach to the north of Spain for ten gloriously parent-free days in the sun. The anticipation, though, was a constant: progress impatiently measured by the weight of the penny jar, counted in trips to the bank on a Saturday morning, culminating in a plastic wallet stuffed full of pleasingly large-numbered and colourful peseta notes.

The last time I saved so feverishly and specifically was for dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck. It would have been hard to communicate to the 16-year-old on her way to the Costa Brava that ten years of time would see her putting aside about the same amount of money for an oyster served with headphones as for the entirety of that holiday, but the excitement would have been entirely familiar. I even had a literal piggy bank – a fat pig no less; an appropriate portent of the truffled pork that would form the peak of that dinner.

As I bring my fat pig out of retirement, I’m thinking about suitable new goals for the coppers swelling its plastic belly. One London restaurant that is already high on the wish list is Moro, in Exmouth Market. Although I’ve walked past it a dozen times or more, I’m holding out on walking through the doors for the time being. A particularly lovely author has promised to take me there as a celebration when he delivers a much-anticipated manuscript. In the meantime I’m saving mental pennies in the form of dishes from the recently acquired cookbook Moro East. This is the third tome to arise from the Moro founders, Sam and Sam Clark, and I think my favourite: inspired by the allotment they used to keep in Hackney it combines an imaginative use of vegetables with their signature Mediterranean style, and is spun through with an earthy but not preachy sense of home and community.

The first thing I make from the book is a dish for a literal rainy day: a pilaf of bulgar and cabbage, cooked with butter and spices, flecked with pine nuts and scallions, and served with a dollop of sumac-sprinkled yoghurt. It’s an unassuming, nourishing blend: not naturally showy but satisfying in its buttery homeliness. By all means, jazz it up by using it as a side dish for a piece of grilled fish, but if you take it at its humble face value you’ll find yourself with a grounding and affordable midweek supper, leaving you with more pennies for that piggy bank.

Cabbage and Bulgar Wheat Pilaf
Adapted from Moro East, by Sam and Sam Clark

Yields 3-4 servings

75g/4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, unsalted (*see note below for vegan version)
8 spring onions/scallions, sliced into rounds, including the green stems
50g/2oz pine nuts
1/2 tsp ground allspice
600g white cabbage (about 1 small-medium Savoy cabbage; other white cabbage would be fine)
200g/7oz coarse bulgar
300ml vegetable stock or water
2 tbsp sumac (optional if you can’t get hold of it: in the US try a Middle Eastern grocer; in the UK major supermarkets now stock this spice)
The leaves of 1 small bunch of parsley
Greek yoghurt to serve

*It would be easy to adapt this to be a vegan dish. Instead of using butter, try a combination of sunflower oil and walnut oil – about 3 tbsp sunflower and 1 tbsp walnut. You can simply omit the Greek yoghurt topping: the dish is quite delicious without it.

Begin by melting the butter in a medium saucepan or small dutch oven over a medium heat. When it starts to foam, add the scallions, pine nuts, allspice and a good pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times. Add the cabbage – it will appear that the pan is too full but in about 5 minutes it will have wilted enough to add the bulgar. After you have added the bulgar, add the stock to cover and season with salt and pepper. Lay a circle of greaseproof (parchment) paper on top and bring to a boil over a medium to high heat. Put a lid on the pan, on top of the paper, and cook quite fast for 5 minutes. Now reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Stir in the sumac along with the parsley, remove from the heat and let the pilaf sit for 5 minutes.

Serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt, seasoned with salt and crushed garlic if you like, and a sprinkle of sumac.

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