Today while reorganizing my kitchen pantry I have found four varieties of bulgur in my cupboards. How unfair I have not written about bulgur more frequently! But I am going to improve right now. Bulgur – yes, I insist it is bulgur and not ‘bulgur wheat’ just like there is no such a thing as ‘lemon lemonade’ – is a wheat berry that was briefly boiled first and then cracked and ground. The ground bulgur is sifted and separated based on the degree of coarseness, each for different use.
Coarse bulgur is often called pilavlık bulgur indicating that it is meant for pilaf, dish traditionally made with rice. Coarse bulgur indeed resembles rice grains just sunny-yellow in color. In fact, at the kitchen of my mother-in-law coming from the Mediterranean coast of Turkey bulgur is favored over rice for the staple dish of pilaf.
Medium-coarse bulgur – yarma kırığı – is a variety with smaller and lighter grains and hence purposed for a wide use: it keeps shape in pilafs due to short cooking times while in soups this bulgur nicely mashes and creates a thicker soup base as you cook it longer.
There are also a couple of fine bulgur varieties. One is köftelik bulgur: from the name it is apparent that this fine bulgur can be used to make köfte such as kisir, fantastic no-cook meatless köfte. The same fine bulgur works great in the soups and thickens them like in the case of the legendary red lentil soup. Fine bulgur is very easy to work with as it does not require cooking and instead can be just soaked in hot water for 20-30 minutes. No wonder this type of bulgur is most commonly found in the recipes around.
But then – if you remember my decadent bulgur gnocchi soup – you are already aware that there is even finer version of bulgur called sefer kitel, or içli köftelik bulgur that is used in the South-East of Turkey for their stuffed köfte (içli köfte), also known to the world by their Arabic name – kibbeh. And if you continue your grinding efforts beyond this you are arriving right to semolina.
Now, inability to tell the difference between different kinds of bulgur – however subtle the difference is at times – equals a fiasco at the Turkish kitchen. I will never forget how my Turkish mother-in-law almost declared me as a culinary failure during one of my first feats in Turkish cooking when I failed to pick up the right kind of bulgur for my pilaf with chard and caramelized onions. Instead of bulgur I picked up the actual wheat berry which has to be soaked – preferably overnight – before cooking. I am still convinced that wheat berry pilaf has a right to exist but she had a point – you have to know your ingredients and bulgur for that matter given we are talking about the single most important grain in Turkish cooking.
I loved bulgur from the first bite. After all in Russia there is a strong cult of wheat and its derivatives. I have very tender memories of the particular kasha, porridge that my grandma used to put together with finely cracked wheat: I now got to understand that it was what Turks call “ince esmer bulgur“, or fine dark bulgur. She made it with whole-milk and butter and I could never stop myself from taking one more spoon until the pot was empty – much to my surprise.
I love anything – really anything – made of bulgur but it is bulgur pilaf that takes a special place in my heart! It is a dish that is cooked at least a few times a week at my mother-in-law’s kitchen and every time she is about to make pilaf she ask, “Rice or bulgur?” I don’t think she means to find out the answer but glad to hear our reassuring cries “Bulgur” we shout in a rush before – God forbids – she puts any rice to soak.
Bulgur pilaf is easily a one-dish meal even if my husband keeps telling me it is a garnish calling for a main. You can go indefinitely freestyle with the ingredients based on the season and your preferences. I have posted a summer bulgur pilaf version already and here comes my winter take.
What makes this bulgur pilaf an ultimate one dish meal is the attack of flavors and addition of green lentil – an ingredient that squares heartiness of every meal. For those insisting (like my husband) it can also be served as garnish to grilled meats. You can definitely use your favorite winter vegetables: roasting them before adding to pilaf is not traditional but does add way more flavor!
Prep Time: 10 Min
- 600 g assorted winter vegetables and fruits (carrot, celeriac, cauliflower, quince)
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- pinch salt
- pinch freshly ground black pepper
- 2 sun-dried apricots
- 4 tbsp hazelnuts
- 1/4 cup green lentils
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup coarse bulgur thoroughly washed and drained
- 2 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 tbsp high-quality tomato paste optional
- 1 medium onion very finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 tbsp salt more to taste
- 1/4 tbsp dry mint
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 4 tbsp very finely chopped parsley
- Roast vegetables: Preheat the oven to 200C/392F. Cut the winter vegetables of choice into equal size dices about half an inch (1 cm). In a large mixing bowl combine extra virgin olive oil, pinch of salt and pepper and add the diced vegetables. Rub the sauce into the vegetables instead of merely tossing them to get the most out of the flavor. Transfer onto a large tray lined with baking paper and spread to make sure there is enough space for the vegetables to breath, or to roast nicely. Put in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are slightly browned on top.
- Prepare the rest of the ingredients: As the vegetables are roasting you have time for three next tasks. 1) Put 1/4 cup lentils and 1 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan: bring to boil and gently simmer for 15 minutes on low heat, or until the water evaporates and the lentils become soft. 2) Meanwhile soak the sun-dried apricots in hot water and set aside for 10 minutes. Then drain and finely dice. 3) Finally, in a small pan toast the hazelnuts tossing the pan frequently to prevent burning; then cool down and grind in a food processor until fine.
- Make pilaf: In a non-stick pot warm up the vegetable oil and sweat onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes. Mix in tomato paste and sweat for a minute longer. Then add bulgur and let it coat in the oil stirring now and then for 3 more minutes. Now add 2 1/4 cup water, lentils, vegetables, diced apricots, salt, bring to boil and simmer covered on low heat for about 7 minutes, or until the water evaporates. Lift the lead, stir in dry mint and red pepper flakes, cover and let seat for 15-20 minutes. Season with fresh parsley, ground hazelnuts and a dollop of yoghurt right before serving.