Earlier this month, I was in Paris for a week – only a week – but still utterly wonderful. Often these trips are like a death march, as I try to cram too much research and home maintenance into too little time, but this time I was on a writing retreat – no cooking, no childcare, only writing. As I gratefully told my husband, it was like a spa for the mind.
Though I loved my hours of at-home solitude, I have to admit that there is a certain guilt in going to Paris and not doing anything. At times I felt like I was wasting the experience of being there – surely I should be out, absorbing the sights and smells of the city I love? Surely I should be eating food other than buttered tartines and Picard? Surely I should be seeing friends? (Please forgive me for not getting in touch, friends!) And then bright rays of sunlight would shoot through my kitchen windows, and I’d start a load of laundry and settle down to wrestle with another paragraph.
The good news is, a week of living like a hermit left me feeling virtuous and productive. Most of all, I loved slipping into my own rhythm in the city, waking late (I never got over jet lag), eating small meals whenever I felt hungry, slipping out to buy a half a baguette at dusk, and working way past my normal bedtime. And while I did make a few great food discoveries – which I’ll report on in my March newsletter (you can sign up here) – I have to say that one of the best things I ate was actually at the airport while waiting for my flight home.
I know – airport food. Yuck. Like you, I’d rather eat anything else. But sometimes it’s unavoidable, and I’m happy to say that the branch of Exki at Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2 is not half bad, the quiches and tarts constantly restocked, the salads fresh, the cheese platters quite tempting. I picked up a terrific tabbouleh salad here – unlike most tabbouleh in France, it used cracked wheat instead of couscous, tossing the grain with loads of chopped parsley – and cubes of roasted butternut squash.
As you probably know, tabbouleh is traditionally a summer salad of fresh herbs, tomatoes, and cucumbers, a scant amount of grain – bright and refreshing – dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. But why not create a winter version, too? These days, parsley, mint, and scallions are available year-round – and they pair beautifully with winter squash – chunks of butternut, acorn, or even sweet potato would all be delicious. When I made this at home, I also threw in the last few sprigs of cilantro hanging out in my crisper, so really any herb goes, as long as they don’t overpower.
There is, admittedly, a fair amount of work to making tabbouleh – washing the herbs, drying them, plucking the leaves, finely chopping them – these are my least favorite kitchen tasks (clearly, I need to keep training my sous chef). But if you turn on NPR, it goes faster than you think – and you can bask in the thrift of using up that pesky bunch of parsley you have on hand from another recipe (like these meatballs).
We ate the tabbouleh for lunch with Ottolenghi’s turkey and courgette burgers, but I think grilled halloumi cheese would also be delicious. I’m going to try that next time.
Winter tabbouleh with butternut squash
250 grams butternut squash
1/3 cup bulgur wheat
1 large bunch parsley
1/2 bunch mint
3 green onions, washed and trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Peel and cube the butternut squash. (The best method I have found is via Elizabeth Minchilli here.) Toss the squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast until soft, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the bulgur wheat in a small bowl, cover with boiling water, and leave for five minutes. Drain in a strainer, allowing the excess water to drip through.
Wash and dry the parsley and mint. Pluck the leaves from the stems. Finely chop the leaves and add to a large bowl. Thinly slice the scallions and add them to the bowl, along with the bulgur wheat, and cooled butternut squash. Toss together with the juice of half a lemon, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more lemon juice if desired.