Challenged by the CompuServe WineForum kitchen crew to come up with a new interpretation for Cornish hens, I started with the concept of mini-hens stuffed with pesto and fruit, then threw in a whiff of the middle east.

The started with a rendition invented by a fellow crazed home chef, Jon Lawry of Atlanta, who made a traditional pesto and stuffed it inside the birds, spooning it direct from hen to pasta at serving time. Why not turn the sauce into a firmer, more traditional dressing by including the starch from the beginning, I thought ... so what starch shall I use? Bulghur? Eureka!! Why not create a pesto-flavored TABOULEH, adding pesto to the usual parsley to make a fusion Mediterranean-rim salad; then gussy this up with appropriate fruits and pine nuts to make a unique stuffing for the hens.?

My wife was dubious, but the pesto tabouleh turned out to be so good that we made extra, using the fancified version inside the birds and serving the straight version alongside as both starch and salad.

Put 1 cup bulghur wheat in a bowl, pour 1 cup boiling water over, and stir to mix; let stand for 30 minutes, then fluff up with a fork and set aside to cool.

In the Cuisiniart bowl, combine two cups (or more) fresh basil leaves, 1 bunch parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, two large garlic cloves and 2 tablespoons pine nuts. Process (steel blade) until it's all chopped fine, then add 2 tablespoons quality olive oil and the juice of 1/2 lime and 1/2 lemon, and process until it's almost a paste.

Mix the vegetables and the bulghur together, taste for seasoning, and refrigerate until dinner time.

About 90 minutes before dinner, prepare the hens and the stuffing. Take about 1/2 cup of the tabouleh, put it in a small bowl, and stir in 2 tablespoons of pine nuts (toasted in a dry skillet until they brown), 2 tablespoons of dried, unsweetened bing cherries (chopped) and 2 tablespoons tiny zante currants (widely available from Sun-Maid). Stuff this into the birds; it should be just about enough to fill both comfortably. Tuck their wingtips underneath and put them on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Preheat the oven to 450F, rub each bird all over with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Put the birds into the oven 60 minutes before dinner; roast at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 for the remaining cooking time. During the last 15 or 20 minutes, baste frequently with the pan juices.

The result? Incredible! The high-to-low-heat technique with basting and the influence of the moiste, steamy stuffing rendered the birds succulent and juicy, with skin as crisp and brittle as glass. The tabouleh stuffing gently cooked in the cavities and picked up the chicken juices, and the blackcurrant and tart-cherry fruit accents made it a remarkable match for the similar aromas and flavors of the 1993 Canoe Ridge Washington State Merlot. The wine was no slouch with the bird, either!