Winter is the perfect time to experiment with different cooking ingredients, and this season bulgur is my new star. A staple in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, bulgur, also known as ala and Dalia (and also spelled as bulghur, bulgar, boulgar, or burghul), is a wonderful and versatile ingredient for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Not to be confused with cracked wheat, bulgur also is made from whole-grain hard wheat. Whereas, cracked wheat is uncooked wheat that has been dried first and cracked apart by coarse milling, bulgur is first steamed, then dried, and then crushed and cracked into various grinds. Unlike cracked wheat, bulgur is quick to prepare and can be reconstituted with hot water in a matter of minutes.
Bulgur has a delicious and nutty taste, faintly reminiscent of whole-wheat toast that most people find familiar and comforting. It makes a wonderful base for salads and pilafs, adds crunch to breads and muffins, and it is unusually tasty as a hot cereal with milk and maple syrup.
Since bulgur is only minimally processed, it is a grain that is high in vitamins and nutrients. It has a lower glycemic index than rice, which makes it a perfect food for diabetics, folks with blood sugar challenges, and those following Weight Watchers and other closely monitored nutrition plans.
In addition, bulgur is low in fat, a powerhouse of fiber and a good source of protein, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, iron and B vitamins.
Tabbouleh, the Middle Eastern dish prepared with bulgur, chopped tomatoes, parsley and mint, is the preparation that most of us recognize. However, bulgur is not exclusive to the Middle East. Evidence of this grain in China predates the birth of Christ by about 2,800 years when the Emperor Shen Nung declared bulgur one of the five sacred crops (the others being soybeans, rice, barley and millet).
The grain traveled to Europe in the mid-1400s, as a souvenir of the Ottoman rulers who branched out after their conquest of Turkey. It is believed that Christopher Columbus even planted it in the New World.
Here in the United States, bulgur is usually packaged in three different grades: coarse grind with a rice-like texture is often used for pilafs and stuffings, medium grind is more all-purpose and is good for cold salads and vegetable dishes while fine grind adds easily to bread and dessert recipes.
Bulgur can be found in most major supermarkets. For the best value and maximum freshness, I like to purchase the grain at my local food co-op or health food store. For the best deal, look for Bob’s Red Mill bulgur at Renys.
I like to mix bulgur into meatballs and meat loaf to increase the nutritional density. The texture of bulgur is similar to that of ground meat, which makes it perfect for preparing vegetarian chili. Bulgur also is delicious as a stuffing for baked cabbage leaves.
According to Arab folklore, the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden was not apple, but a high-rise stalk of wheat. When Eve pruned the branch and wheat kernels fell, what was Adam and Eve’s undoing became the source of survival for them in the outside world.
This winter, I’ll cook with versatile bulgur and pay homage to the ancient wheat berry.
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 cups ½chopped onion
- 1 bell pepper seeded and chopped
- 1 cup raw bulgur
- 2 cups cooked kidney beans 1 19-oz. can
- 2 cups cooked black beans or chick peas 1 19-oz. can
- 4 cups chopped tomatoes 1 28-oz. can
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp cumin or more to taste
- 1 tsp chili powder or more to taste
- 1 tsp dried basil
- ¼ cup red wine
- Dash of cayenne pepper
- sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp vegetable stock for sautéing
- Salsa for garnish
- Sour cream or yogurt for garnish
- In a medium saucepan on top of the stove, heat the tomatoes to a boil and add the raw bulgur. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes.
- In a heavy pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add some vegetable stock if needed to prevent from sticking. Add the bell pepper, freshly ground pepper and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, bulgur, beans, lemon juice, red wine, cumin, chili powder, cayenne, basil and sea salt to taste. Heat together gently, stirring constantly. This soup scorches easily, so beware!
- Taste the soup and correct the seasonings. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, topped with salsa.
- Reheat this chili in a casserole in the oven. It will keep for a week in the refrigerator, and also freezes well.