In winter, roasted, fragrant and filling root vegetables can and should replace greenhouse or air flown peppers and aubergines in this vibrant dish with versatile bulgur.
Root veg, the underdog
Who says you can’t have cheerful, colourful dishes in winter? You absolutely can.
But what’s best in the plant world in the bleak midwinter won’t be the Mediterranean selection bursting with flavour, at least not here at home in the UK. If you expect good tomatoes in January, you’re either Australian or an idiot, I’m sorry to say.
That’s not to say we can’t cook lovely things with what we have, seasonally and locally. Root vegetables will be hugely more nutritious and probably far tastier than peppers flown in from Chile or grown in the Isle of Wight that require the whole contents of Nord Stream to ripen.
What selection of root vegetables is the best for roasting? What a silly question: whatever you like best of course. My suggestion is for a mix of carrot, parsnip, beetroot and sweet potato with a pear for company.
The beauty of those apparently boring rooters is that they can all cook together even though parsnips soften much sooner than carrots do, and the beetroots want to colour the whole tray crimson.
But those parsnips won't spoil through longer cooking, only caramelise gorgeously and the beetroot makes the dish look cheerful and vibrant.
How to roast root vegetables
Roasting vegetables is a no-brainer – or is it? Peel ‘em, slather with extra virgin olive oil and roast for half an hour? No, thanks.
Roasted root vegetables need seasoning, just like meat does. EVOO is a complete waste in the hot oven, and the veg will be hard and still raw after half an hour, especially carrots and beetroot.
So back to the beginning: once peeled and – in this instance, not as a rule – chopped into bite-sized pieces, they’d best sit in a marinade made up with salt and/or soy sauce, lemon juice and maple syrup or honey. Plus olive oil, but the ordinary, cheaper, not extra virgin variety.
The oven should be hot, the baking tray should be spacious. If squashed together on top of one another, they’ll steam rather than roast.
And it does pay off to toss them around at least once throughout the roasting, yet better twice.
The roasting takes at least forty minutes and up to an hour: test a carrot chunk for tenderness.
The bulgur element
Bulgur is a wholegrain wheat product, made from parboiled, dried and cracked wheat groats. It’s a good news food all round: whole grain means lots of good fibre and high nutritional value. It’s also easy to digest and madly easy to prepare.
There are various types of bulgur depending on its coarseness, from fine to extra coarse. But even the chunkiest grain needs not much more than a good soak in boiling water to cook, especially if you enjoy slightly chewier texture.
Bulgur takes on any flavour quite happily, and in this instance I aim at quite gutsy, to complement rather bland vegetables. A combo of anchovy, smoked paprika, tomato puree and honey, with some dried oregano, is stirred into measured out vegetable or chicken stock.
How much liquid to cook bulgur?
The ratio of liquid to bulgur is just under two to one in volume (cups) and just over that in weight so for 150g of bulgur for two people you’ll need 350ml of boiling water or stock (which is of course the same in grams of weight).
If you add the bulgur into the boiling stock and cover the pan tightly with a lid, it will take about twenty minutes for the grain to absorb all the liquid and to cook through, off the heat.
Coordinating the timing of that with the roasting of the vegetables is the only challenge as far as my recipe is concerned.
You can mix the bulgur with the vegetables before serving or keep it separate, like in my images: a pile of bulgur topped with a mound of the veggie assortment. Really, who needs meat with that?
More bulgur recipes
Bulgur wheat pilaf with red peppers and raisins. Cooked like rice pilaf but refreshingly different; looks like couscous but it’s more nutritious; whole grain of cereal but not slimy like barley.
Bulgur wheat salad with chorizo and sliced green beans has just the right balance of flavours: spicy, wholesome, fresh. It also has the best Rasta colours: red gold and green!
Pork and smoky bacon meatballs with tomato flavoured bulgur wheat, a variation on Swedish, Italian and Moroccan meatball classics.
More root vegetable recipes
Autumn vegetable tian, a cheesy bake of carrots, parsnips, potatoes and other root vegetables, easily made ahead.
Celeriac remoulade, a lovely salad made from raw, shredded celeriac dressed with a sauce designed specially for it. Who says root vegetables are boring?
Chunky parsnip fries are the ultimate in deep fried, sweet and salty. Have them instead of potato chips for a slightly healthier change.