Grain-Free Mediterranean “Bulgar” Salad

With Papa & Granny in Kent, WA

With Papa & Granny in Kent, WA

I have a story for you today to go with the recipe. I know I haven’t had a lot of stories to go with my recipes lately. Most of the recipes were either inspired on the spot in the kitchen while trying to figure out what to do or something I toyed with in my head just because I thought it sounded good before toying with it in the kitchen. I’ve also been getting my story telling out through my creative outlet on Chocolate Wasteland so I don’t feel the need to tell as many stories here. That can be a good thing when all you want is a recipe. But today this recipe has a background and if my bestie reads this she’ll probably roll her eyes because I’m going the long way ’round to tell this story.

Back in the early/mid 2000’s, Chaz kept messing with the Atkins Diet. I tried it with him once and lasted four days. In 2004, he decided he wanted to do the South Beach Diet. He gave me the book to read and I agreed. Then Granny’s health went downhill. Fast. Towards the end of the first week of the elimination phase I had to fly out to California to see her to say goodbye. I found my way to the Tustin Whole Foods on the way to my grandparents house after picking up my rental car just outside the John Wayne Airport in Orange County and picked up a salad from the salad bar. I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of healthy options at the house.

Given the stress that weekend, I stayed on track. By Monday, I was calling my boss to extend my trip because the hospice nurse felt Granny would not last the week. I was not going to fly back to Kentucky just to turn around and fly back for a funeral. My bestie drove down from L.A. to spend the afternoon with me, Granny, and the aunties and distracted me with jewelry-making and clothes shopping. When you intend to travel somewhere for a weekend, you don’t have enough for a week. And I definitely didn’t have the clothes for California weather.

Granny passed some time Monday night/Tuesday morning. I found her in her in the hospital bed in the den, one eye closed and the other half open. The humming of the oxygen tank filled the air but I knew something was amiss when I started talking to her before I reached the bed. It is amazing how working in an environment full of crises trains you to be calm and methodical in the face of your personal crisis. I checked for a pulse and breath. She was ice cold to the touch, no pulse, no puffing of air coming from her mouth or rising and falling of her chest. I quickly skirted Auntie Jude sleeping on the futon in the living room and went directly to the bathroom where Auntie Boogie was getting ready for jury duty. It wasn’t until my aunties were at Granny’s side and crying that I finally broke down.

They made the phone calls to hospice, the funeral home, Papa’s care home, the church, and my mother. We brought Papa over so he could say goodbye to her. The funeral home came for Granny. Hospice came for the bed. My mother, sisters, and niece drove up from Encinitas in time to meet with the Pastor. By the time my mother and sisters left, we each had tasks to complete for the week. That night my aunties and I returned to Auntie Boogie’s condo in Fullerton rather than staying at my grandparent’s. We went through a bottle of wine while talking, laughing, and crying together.

Being myself with Auntie Boogie and Granny

Being myself with Auntie Boogie and Granny

The next day, Auntie Jude called my mother from Granny and Papa’s while we were getting the house ready for guests to see what she had done from her list. Nothing. She took a nap after getting home because she had “a bad day.” To say I lost it is an understatement. I went on a screaming tirade until I couldn’t scream anymore. I had another one back at Auntie Boogie’s that night as the three of us shared TWO bottles of wine. There are things you can’t un-see or undo. I will always have that image of Granny laying in that bed lifeless and pale burned in my memories. I will always have the memory of shoving feelings and emotions aside to check for vital signs instead of giving in to them instantly. I had a bad day and yet I was still functioning. I was cleaning the house. I was making and writing up thank you cards. I was taking calls. I was searching for Bible verses for the memorial service. I was angry I was doing more for Granny’s memorial than my own mother.

After the first screaming tirade, before returning to Auntie Boogie’s and engaging in another one, I was sitting at the kitchen table staring at all the food neighbors and friends had been bringing over since the weekend. Up until that point I was staying on track with South Beach. Homemade Persimmon cookies and I were having an intense staredown. I was having a very bad reaction to my mother’s excuse for not doing her tasks. I demolished a few of the cookies. I felt better. And that’s when I realized that trying to be vigilant about the diet I was on by choice was silly while I was under so much stress. When I talked to Chaz later and told him about the cookies he laid into me. That’s when I fired back with, “Granny just DIED and you want me to worry about a diet? Screw that. I’m eating what I want until I get back home then I’ll pick up with it in the phase you’re in.”

I didn’t go overboard with the foods I shouldn’t have been eating. I didn’t sit and polish off an entire bag of cookies and a pint of ice cream or a pizza. I had the one moment of emotional eating with the Persimmon cookies and the evenings with my aunties and a bottle of wine. That weekend, my sisters and I took my niece to Rodeo Drive. Granny and Auntie Carol used to take me to Rodeo every year I visited from out-of-state and when I lived in Encinitas. We would eat a picnic lunch in a park between the shopping area and the residential area. We “shopped” on Rodeo and Beverly Drive. Then we ate dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. Or sometimes we’d eat lunch there and walk everything off while shopping. I had cheesecake in Granny’s memory and all those memories with her in Beverly Hills and her snickering smile when we spotted a good deal.

Goofing off on Rodeo with Dawn

Goofing off on Rodeo with Dawn

The next day, Auntie Boogie and I went to Rodeo with my bestie. In high school, Granny and Auntie Boogie let me bring Dawn along. More cheesecake was had. It wasn’t the same without Granny, but we carried her with us in our hearts and enjoyed the day despite her absence.

Tuesday came around and I was on a plane back to Louisville, Kentucky. True to what I told Chaz, I jumped right back into the diet with him in the phase. There was no point to going back to the beginning. Sometimes you just have to hop back in where you left off instead of returning to Start. I didn’t beat myself up over getting off track and I didn’t let Chaz beat me up either. This wasn’t like I knew I had Celiac or food allergies at the time. I wasn’t trying to recover from alcohol or drug addiction who fell off the wagon. It wasn’t life or death and I didn’t let it become life or death. It was a simple change in diet I chose to make. That was the first lesson this taught me and I carry it with me when I’m supporting friends who are trying to make healthier changes and they can’t seem to stay on track. I tell them, it’s okay, just get back on track and keep going until you fall off again then repeat. The point is to just keep going forward.

The second lesson is how to substitute what you know for something different. On South Beach it is a shift from refined grains to whole grains. It really wasn’t too hard to do that. But when it came to cutting out/down on processed foods before going gluten-free I would sit and think, I did it on South Beach, I can do it with this I just need to figure out an option. And that’s how I process every time I’ve had to remove something. There are some food allergies for which there is no substitution. I don’t like the dairy-free cheeses and now with all the other food allergies they are not an option anyway so it was a good thing I never relied on them. Some people like using baking soda/powder and apple cider vinegar (ACV) as a yeast-free option in baking, but it is not entirely yeast-free. Yeast is used to ferment ACV and other vinegars. There are some vinegars which are not fermented with use of yeast. But to try to keep track of them and each brand would be too much so I do without vinegar completely.

So what does all this have to do with the Grain-Free Mediterranean “Bulgar” Salad in the title of the post? Everything. There was a bulgar wheat salad I made frequently even after we stopped doing South Beach months later. It was just good. South Beach taught me how to think to substitute and with looking at doing the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (AIP) the years of substituting different vegetables for grains has me ahead of the game as far as being ready to go without going insane trying to figure out what I’m doing. South Beach is also tied to my memories of Granny’s death as she left us as I was in the beginning stages. It’s all tied up together in my head and so I had to get it all out together.

I used grated cauliflower in place of gluten-free grains in this recipe. I tried to make it once with quinoa but Chaz hates quinoa so I don’t use it unless Chaz isn’t home. But on AIP, quinoa isn’t allowed anyway. You can keep the cauliflower raw in the recipe instead of cooking it like it did, but to me it tastes better when you lightly sautée it. Cauli Mint Salad

Grain-Free Mediterranean “Bulgar” Salad – serves 6

1 head cauliflower, grated

1/2 pint grape tomatoes, quartered

1 cucumber, seeded, quartered, sliced

1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped

1/2 cup olive oil, divided (2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons)

2 teaspoons lemon juice


Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and coat the skillet. Add the cauliflower, season with salt, and stir often until it is tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Add cauliflower, tomatoes, mint leaves, and cucumber to a medium mixing bowl. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup (I prefer the latter), add the remaining olive oil, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Whisk together until emulsified then pour over the salad and mix well. Serve at room temperature or chill before serving.



  1. Very inventive Debbie! And it looks awesome!! And I agree with Chaz, I’m not a big quinoa fan, even though it will work for my dietary needs right now! I love your version! I will have to try it!

    • Maybe it’s one we can make while at the retreat! 🙂 Thanks for that, Heather. I think the biggest thing for me on here is being real. Not just the good or the bad, but the ugly, too. I know somewhere out there, someone is going through the same thing and needs to know they aren’t alone.

  2. I forgot to comment on this one, Debi. A powerful post sharing such raw and real emotions. I think it’s unreasonable to hold one’s self to eating plans when one’s world feels like it’s crashing down around them. What you did … resuming when you returned home … was more than reasonable. Now I must confess that I have always hated the term bulgar wheat (does it sound vulgar to me because it sounds like that word or have I somehow known subconsciously that I have a wheat (and all gluten) issue all these years?). In any regards, your recipe sounds great despite the name. 😉


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