I love grain-based salads. I could eat them every day and never get sick of them—they're wholesome, belly-filling, and such an easy one-bowl meal. You can toss just about any vegetable, protein, or flavoring onto a pile of cooked whole grains, drizzle a vinaigrette on top, and end up with a delicious dinner that only gets better by lunchtime the next day. Grain-based salads are, in a word, magical.
One of the easiest grains to use for this purpose is bulgur. My mom used to make some sort of bulgur-pea-mayonnaise salad, which I remember only vaguely but very fondly, and though I have yet to replicate that concoction, bulgur is still a go-to grain for salads and sides in my house. It's very nutritious, being whole-grain wheat, but also cooks in practically no time, because it already comes cracked and parboiled or steamed (as opposed to "cracked wheat," which is whole-grain wheat that has been crushed but not parboiled). For this salad, I toast the bulgur before rehydrating it to add a warm, nutty quality.
The bulgur toasts in a dry skillet on the stovetop in the same amount of time it takes a small amount of water to boil. Then, just pour the water over the bulgur, let it soak for 15 minutes, and give it time to cool; if you're in a rush, spreading the cooked bulgur in a thin layer on a sheet pan will dramatically speed up its cool-down time. Not bad for the often time-consuming chore that is whole-grain cooking, right?
You can cook bulgur just as you would rice, using a 2:1 water-to-grain ratio and simmering it until tender. But the soaking method I use here results in fluffier, less starchy individual grains that retain a great chewiness—perfect for use in a salad. The instructions given for the brand I use call for a 1:1 ratio for soaking, but I find that that's too little water. Using one and a quarter cups of water for every cup of bulgur hits the sweet spot.
For another component of this salad, I decided to play with an idea I picked up from the chef Yotam Ottolenghi, which I first saw in an incredible recipe for brussels sprouts from his cookbook Plenty More. In it, Ottolenghi soaks citrus segments in hot simple syrup, creating fruit that retains its essential character while transforming into a kinder, gentler version of itself. He uses pomelo or grapefruit in the recipe, but it works wonders with lemons, too: The fruit remains brilliantly tangy, but loses the harshness you'd experience by eating plain lemon segments. While this can be used to great effect in desserts, it stands out even more against slightly bitter and savory components, like Ottolenghi's sprouts, or the ingredients in this bulgur salad.
The process of candying the lemon segments is simple. Start by cutting the lemon segments into suprèmes, removing all the membranes from each segment. It's an easy technique, one you can read about in detail in this tutorial. After that, it's just a matter of making the simple syrup (dissolving sugar in an equal amount of simmering water) and giving the lemon segments a nice, relaxing 45-minute soak in it. (During which you can prep the other ingredients, meaning the whole shebang will be ready in under an hour.) Bonus: You're left with a cup or so of lemony soaking syrup to use in cocktails, in sorbet, or to rescue a dry cake.
To round this salad out, I added flaked smoked trout, radish, onion, and plenty of apple; together, the flavors strike all sorts of notes, from smoky to meaty, sweet to salty, spicy to refreshingly tart. Thanks largely to those distinctive yet easy lemons, this salad is as suitable in the role of a weeknight meal as it is for a more special-occasion dinner party.
Dressed in a bright vinaigrette (following Kenji's suggested ratio and foolproof method), with a bit of lemon zest and a spoonful of the lemony syrup, this salad is vibrant, even kicky. The textures and flavors keep coming, like a magician's handkerchiefs pulled out of a sleeve—no sleight of hand required.