When I lived in Ankara, Turkey, I was an awkward fourteen-year-old with glasses, who listened to Green Day and Nirvana and wore Metallica T-shirts and Jeans. It was the nineties. I had permed hair, began using make-up and had my first drink and cigarette (both of my precocious friend Carmen, who until this day remains one of the coolest people I have ever met). Obviously, pictures from this time have been shut away in a safe place, and whenever I think of how I looked then, I just shudder. Nonetheless, it was an exciting time. I spent Friday evenings at parties, listening to REM and slow-dancing with boys who weren’t my boyfriend. I had sleep overs with my girl-friends and we would giggle over sex-ed magazines and dedicate each other music on behalf of whoever we happened to be smitten. I can’t listen to “The most beautiful in the world” by Prince without smiling, even though I’m not a particularly huge fan of Prince or this song. Oddly enough, I may as well have forgotten about the guy, but I will always recall Carmen and her voice blasting through the microphone, turning up the volume as Prince began to sing.
Back in 1995, I was also travelling around a country full of amazing food and flavors, with kind and hospitable people and trying to communicate in a complicated language that I got better at speaking and understanding every day. Due to circumstances, which back then resembled to me like a wonder, I finally started going out with the boy of my dreams. I’d been obsessed with him for some time, and suddenly we had a ritual of going to the movies and holding hands and making out in the stairwell beneath the computer club we would occasionally visit during outings. He would buy illegal copies of computer games on disc and I would sit by, peruse the computer game catalogue and pretend to be interested. This boy taught me many things, some of which still prove to be useful. Among them, gems such as this: always have a drink before you kiss someone deeply, especially when you have just eaten ground beef.
I’m not sure if the meaty kissing situations with this boy turned me into a vegetarian, but it was around then that I opted out of eating meat. I also began cooking on a regular basis then, basically in order to avoid meals consisting of sides only. I made lots of soups and stews. But I also learnt how to make Bulgur, one of my favorite Turkish dishes. It is a traditional side, consisting of shredded wheat cooked in a spicy tomato sauce, some butter, onions and parsley. When I still ate gluten, I made bulgur on a regular basis. When I packed up the insides of my cupboards, when I went gluten-free, I was sad that I had to give the last half package of bulgur away. But I never looked back. Until someone posted this couscous imitation made of corn. Eventually, I bought it, specifically to make bulgur. Now, I’m not going to lie to you: it tastes a little different, but it’s damn close to the real thing. Either way, it’s really delicious and a tasty alternative to bland rice and potatoes.
one cup of gluten-free couscous-imitation
two medium onions, chopped finely
a generous chunk of butter (or margarine, for the vegans)
one and a half cups canned tomatoes (e.g. the chunky kind or passata)
one and a half cups of vegetable broth
salt, chili flakes (or pieces of fresh chilli, if you have it) pepper, parsley, a handful of freshly chopped parsley
Heat a pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the finely chopped onions and allow to roast for about five minutes. Then, place the gluten-free couscous-imitation through a strainer and let some water run through it. Drain well and add to the butter and the onion. Fry for about a minute, then add the passata and the vegetable broth. Season with salt, pepper and the chili flakes. Stir well and cover the pot. Allow to boil at medium temperature for about twenty minutes, until all liquid has been absorbed by the pieces of corn. Add the parsley, give one last stir and serve the gluten-free bulgur imitation immediately (while still hot).
At my house, we love eating this side with pieces of fried soy meat and some fresh salad. This time, I even combined my Turkish experience, and added a characteristic Bolivian touch: llajua. It’s a hot sauce made from grated tomatoes, onions and locoto, a special type of pepper. Dinner’s ready!