This salad is a great way to boost your fiber intake and gain benefits from one of nature’s superfoods—sweet potatoes. It works as a fabulous vegetarian main dish thanks to its high protein content. It tastes great too.
Bulgur (also spelled bulghur) is a whole grain made from wheat common in Mediterranean cooking. It is often confused with cracked wheat as each is made from cracked wheat berries. Unlike cracked wheat, bulgur is parboiled and dried before being ground. For this reason bulgur cooks relatively quickly, making it an excellent grain for those who find themselves strapped for time.
Nutritionally, bulgur is a powerhouse. Just one cup of cooked grains provides 8 grams of fiber, one third of the recommended minimum daily intake. It’s also high in plant proteins and several vitamins and minerals.
Fiber is one of the main reasons whole plant foods are good for you.
Growing evidence shows that adequate fiber intake benefits your digestion and reduces your risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, digestive disorders, diabetes and cancer. Possibly even dementia, though more studies are needed on this particular disease.
Five hundred to 1,000 different species of bacteria live in the intestines, totaling about 38 trillion cells. These gut microbes form an ecosystem called the microbiome, and they are crucial to good health. The microbiome is a complex area for study and there is a lot of interest in understanding it better. We know that it produces both good and bad bacteria, and the bad bacteria produced from both processed meats and red meats are linked to heart disease, so much so that the role of saturated fat has come into question. You can read more on this here:
The friendly bacteria produce nutrients for the body, including short-chain fatty acids that feed the human cells in the colon, leading to reduced gut inflammation and can relieve suffering from digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and IBS.
When the bacteria ferment the fiber, they also produce gases. This is why high fiber diets can cause flatulence and stomach discomfort in some people. Sadly, this is the reason why a lot of North Americans avoid high fiber diets, not understanding that when adding fiber to a typically low fiber diet one needs to begin slowly. Going from 0 to 25g per day will cause discomfort. However, if increasing amounts of fiber are introduced gradually, these side effects can be minimized and will disappear with time as the body adjusts. My own experience demonstrates that this is worth doing. I have a lot more energy since I’ve become aware of the value of fiber and aim to get a minimum of 25 grams of it into my body every day. This recipe is one that helps me to do that, by meeting 70% of my daily needs.
Fiber also protects against spikes in blood sugar that can lead to insulin resistance and Type-II Diabetes because it slows the digestive process, meaning that glucose doesn’t hit the blood stream as quickly as it does when consumed from simple carbs such as fruit juices versus eating an actual piece of whole fruit that contains fiber. There is a huge difference in value between simple carbs like white bread that contain almost no fiber and complex carbs like bulgur that do.
“In addition to its impacts on gut and bowel health, fiber is associated with lower body weight.” – P.K. Newby, ScD, MPH, MS, Food & Nutrition: What Everyone Needs To Know.
People who eat high fiber diets weigh less. This could be due to the filling nature of these foods resulting in suppressed appetite, as well as the fact that calories from insoluble fiber are not absorbed by the body. The same is true for the calories consumed by the microbiome.
I am a bit wonky and keep Newby’s book handy to look up answers to questions that come up when I think and write about food, but you don’t have to! I tell you this so that you have confidence that when I speak of nourishing the body, I’m not just talking through my ass. Her book is solidly researched and fact-based, with footnotes and endnotes and all that academic, professional stuff. It’s also impossible to summarize in a listicle, which could be why you may not have heard of it. It doesn’t lend itself to click bait or easy headlines.
Back to bulgur.
A 1-cup (182-gram) serving of cooked bulgur offers*:
- Calories: 151
- Carbs: 34 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: less than 1 gram
- Fiber: 8 grams
- Vitamin B6: 8% of the DV
- Pantothenic acid: 13% of the DV
- Manganese: 48% of the DV
- Copper: 15% of the DV
- Magnesium: 14% of the DV
- Iron: 10% of the DV
- Niacin: 9% of the DV
- Thiamine: 9% of the DV
- Zinc: 9% of the DV
- Folate: 8% of the DV
Sweet potatoes are also rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, as well as anti-oxidants. They help your microbiome produce good gut bacteria, aide vision, and may possibly enhance brain function by reducing inflammation. In places like Okinawa, Japan, where they are a dietary staple, people live longer with fewer chronic diseases such as dementia and diabetes. Researchers are working hard to understand why this is so.
But we don’t have to wait for the research results from Okinawa to discover the benefits of sweet potatoes for ourselves. I love this salad for its pretty presentation with the brilliant orange of sweet potatoes next to green kale and red pomegranates. That it’s good for me is a bonus. I hope you enjoy it too.
Mostly I eat this dish as a main, but sometimes when company is coming I’ll serve it with pork tenderloin rubbed with spices, pan seared and roasted. The meat eaters tend to like this.
Serves 4 as a main dish.
- 2 smallish sweet potatoes weighing 8 ounces each (250g), cut into wedges about an inch or two centimeters wide.
- 1 15 ounce (400 gram) can of garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas).
- 2 tablespoons olive oil.
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) curry powder.
- 1½ teaspoons salt.
- 1¼ cups (200 grams) medium grind bulgur.
- 2½ ounces (73 ml) cider vinegar.
- a big handful of baby kale (washed).
- 2 ounces (55 grams) sheep’s milk feta. (Optional).
- walnuts, toasted and chopped, about 1/4 cup.
- Dried cranberries or fresh pomegranate seeds.
- Place oven rack in middle position and heat oven to 430℉ (220 ℃).
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Toss sweet potatoes, chickpeas, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, curry powder, and ½ teaspoon of salt together in a large bowl.
- Spread them in a single layer on the baking sheet.
- Roast for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and have taken on some color.
- Meanwhile, bring 2½ cups of water to a boil in a sauce pan and add the bulgur, a teaspoon of butter or some olive oil, to the pot. Stir. Cover and turn the heat to low. Do not stir again until it is cooked. Cook for fifteen minutes and then remove the pot from heat and allow to stand for 15 minutes. The water should be absorbed and the bulgur fluffy.
- Whisk vinegar, a couple of tablespoons olive oil and a good pinch of salt together in a large bowl. Add the cooked bulgur and kale and toss to coat.
- Divide the dressed bulgur and kale, sweet potatoes and garbanzo beans, among serving bowls. Top with feta (optional), nuts, cranberries or pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Serve.
Providing nutritional facts for any recipe is a challenge since very often the finished product prepared at home is not exactly the same as what the recipe writer plugged into the analyzer. Having said that, this is a reliable analysis based on the measurements and ingredients listed above.
This recipe is based on one from Cooks Country magazine.
*Nutritional data for bulgur provided by healthline.com