bulgur wheat pilaf
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Bulgur wheat cooks like rice but tastes refreshingly different; it looks like couscous but it’s more nutritious; it is a cracked whole grain of a cereal plant but is not slimy like barley. That’s my perfect grain!
Couscous, farro, barley, cracked buckwheat, freekeh, bulgur and the eponymous quinoa: the prized and praised, and present everywhere grains these days. Or is it cereals? But couscous isn’t a grain and quinoa isn’t even a proper cereal. And what’s wrong with rice? Since when has rice not been good enough for everyone?
I used to hate all grains and cereals when I was a kid. Rice was only tolerable as pudding. Barley and buckwheat, as I claimed, hurt my teeth. Corn had to have been popped and sugared to be edible and porridge made me break out in a rash. But, as many of us, I grew to like most grains, with the exception of quinoa which tastes like boiled sawdust. Our taste buds change preferences every seven years, apparently, so perhaps there’s hope for boiled sawdust too (not a chance for quinoa though).
It is interesting how foods we used to detest as children become completely palatable in our adult lives. I secretly ascribe it to the fact that most people’s parents couldn’t cook, hence so many detested foods among kids. Mine certainly weren’t great chefs – I left home with an exhilarating feeling of ‘no more boiled beef or grated carrots’!
I have not become a convert to boiled beef but as said above, very much so to grains and cereals. I’m pleased to see the variety (except quinoa) and note their popularity. The dishes featuring grains are salads uppermost – the hipster trinity of edamame, beetroot and a grain of sorts is on the menus everywhere – but lest we forget, grains can be served in hot dishes very well indeed.
Taking rice as an example, we can cook and serve couscous as a plain side to a meat dish. Barley can pretend it does a risotto and bulgur makes pretty damn good pilaf. It tops rice in that it requires no soaking, cooks quicker and doesn’t need all the palaver of not lifting the lid for a second while it rests.
I have combined bulgur, after the Turkish fashion, with dried berries and nuts, and made red peppers play the lead. You can swap them for mushrooms or tomatoes although tomatoes have the tendency to overpower and gloop up most dishes. Of course meat can be added in lieu of peppers, e.g. chunks of chicken or lamb, or even leftover cooked meat sliced into the pilaf but I decided to keep it vegetarian as, aside from being super tasty, it actually is very nutritious and relatively rich in protein. And much much healthier than quinoa.
bulgur wheat pilafServings: 2-4, side or main dishTime: 35 minutes
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 red Romano peppers, cored and roughly chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 large green chilli, seeded and finely chopped (medium heat)
- ½ tsp dried mint (optional)
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 150g (scant cup) bulgur wheat
- 40g (2 tbsp.) raisins, cranberries or barberries
- 350ml vegetable stock
- ½ bunch fresh coriander, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp. shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
- plain yoghurt, to serve
1. Heat 1 tbsp. of oil over high heat in a large casserole or sauté pan with a lid. Add the peppers and cook stirring for about 5 minutes, until they start wilting and blistering. Remove them onto a plate with tongs. Turn the heat down.
2. Add the other spoonful of oil to the pan and add the onions, garlic and chilli. Cook over medium heat until they soften and colour, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mint, paprika and cinnamon.
3. Add the bulgur wheat to the pan and stir for a minute to coat it with spices. Add the raisins and pour in the stock. Bring it to the boil, turn down the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook for 10 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and little tunnels appear on the surface.
4. Take the pan off the heat and let it stand covered for 5 minutes. Uncover, fluff it up with a fork and stir in the red peppers, coriander and pistachios. Serve immediately with yoghurt to dollop onto the pilaf.