Last week, I walked by the cheese section of my supermarket in Dubai to pick up my usual weekly suspects: parmesan, cheddar, feta and goat’s cheese. I usually also add a cheese from a rotating list in my head – tomme, appenzeller, or brie. But I felt like I wanted to try something different this time.
I have to admit that I have been quite bad about trying the local cheeses from the Middle East. Sometimes I will pick up a local halloumi or labneh, but that’s the extent of it. I wandered over to the section where the local cheeses were displayed. There were two cheeses there which caught my eye immediately, possibly because they were the first ones visible. One was called ‘Bulgary Cheese’ and the other ‘Chtoora Bulgari Cheese’.
I asked the obvious question to the lady behind the counter, “Are these from Bulgaria?” “No madam, local,” she replied. I didn’t quite believe her, but went with it anyway. I tasted both. The Bulgary Cheese was dripping with brine, very salty and crumbly – very similar to feta (maybe it was feta by a different name). The Chtoora Bulgari Cheese was firm and slightly sweet – a cross between halloumi and the cheese dumplings used in Ras Malai. Instead of choosing just one or the other, I decided to buy 150g (5oz) of each and combine them in a salad. ‘Bulgar Wheat and Herb Salad with Two Cheeses’ is what I came up with.
P.S. Anyone who has any knowledge of local Middle Eastern cheese, please point me in the right direction!
BULGAR WHEAT AND HERB SALAD with TWO CHEESES
(Serves 4-6 as a side dish)
5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of salt (to taste)
120g / 4 oz dried bulgar wheat (it will become 240g / 8 oz cooked bulgar)
600ml / 2.5 cups water (to boil the bulgar)
100g / 4 oz / 6 cups baby spinach or rocket (arugula) leaves, roughly chopped
2 cups of any combination of finely chopped fresh herbs (dill, coriander, parsley, mint – depending on what you have)
3 spring onions, finely sliced (white and green parts)
250g / 9 oz cherry tomatoes, quartered
150g / 5 oz salty Bulgary Cheese (or feta), crumbled
150g / 5 oz firm unsalty Chtoora Bulgari Cheese (or halloumi), diced
- Start by cooking your bulgar wheat (follow the instructions on the packaging). Rinse the dried bulgar wheat in 3 changes of water and drain it. Put it into a small saucepan and add 600ml (2.5 cups) cool water. Cover the pan with a lid and turn the heat on high to bring it to the boil. As soon as the water starts boiling, reduce the heat to medium and cook the bulgar for 12-15 minutes until cooked through (it should still have some bite to it). You may need to drain the excess water. Spread the cooked bulgar on a plate to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Prepare your dressing by combining 5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 5 Tbsp fresh lemon juice and a pinch of salt in jar or bowl. Shake/whisk and set aside.
- Wash 100g of baby spinach or rocket (arugula). Dry the leaves in a tea towel and roughly chop them up. Set aside.
- Take any combination of fresh herbs (dill, coriander, parsley, mint). Wash, dry and finely chop them. Set aside.
- Get 3 spring onions and remove the outer leaves. Wash them and finely slice them. Set aside.
- Wash 250g cherry tomatoes and cut them into quarters. Set aside.
- Get your two types of cheese. Crumble the one which is like feta and dice the one which is like halloumi. Set aside (refrigerate if not using immediately).
- Once your bulgar is room temperature, put it into a large bowl and pour the dressing on top. Toss well.
- Add the leaves, herbs and spring onions. Toss until evenly combined.
- Add the cherry tomatoes and two cheeses. Carefully fold them in.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate and eat within 48 hours.