Bulghur wheat (also spelt bulgur and bulgar) is wheat that has been partly cooked, then dried so that it can be stored for a long time – it takes very little (or even no) cooking. It is most commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking and is eaten instead of rice or couscous. It is quite a robust grain and holds its shape well when cooked.
How to cook Bulghur Wheat
– Cooking bulghur wheat is simple. If you are using fine or medium-grain bulghur wheat, you don’t need to actually ‘cook’ it, just to soak it. Pour boiling water over the grains and leave it for 20-40 minutes to fluff up (the length of soaking time will depend on the age of the bulghur grains). The ratio of bulghur wheat to liquid is 1 part bulgur to 2 parts liquid – that means for every cup of bulghur you use, you need 2 cups of water.
– If you are using coarse-grain bulghur wheat you need to cook it in boiling water and simmer it until the grains are soft (about 20 minutes). The ratio is the same as above: 1 part coarse Bulghur wheat to 2 parts water or if it is easier, cover the bulghur in water, bring to the boil, simmer and drain when cooked. You’ll know it’s ready because the grains will swell and when you try a few grains, they will be soft to bite into but still have structure.
How much bulghur wheat do you need to cook?
– 1 cup of medium grain bulghur wheat (about 210g) will give you 3 cups of ‘cooked’ bulghur wheat (enough for 3 people for a side dish or salad).
– 1/2 cup (about 105g) of medium grain bulghur wheat will give you 1.5 cups of cooked bulghur which is enough for 2 people for a salad or side dish.
* The cup referred to is a 240ml measuring cup.
Flavouring bulghur wheat in recipes
– You can soak or cook bulghur wheat in water or stock or a mixture of both for added flavour and add any assortment of spices or herbs to flavour it. Paula Wolfert says in her book ‘(The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook ‘ that a Turkish friend told her: ‘In Turkey no man would marry a woman who just used water! For cold bulghur dishes we always soak (it) in tomato juice, onion juice, or fresh pressed and strained sour grape juice to flavour the bulghur first’.
This middle-eastern salad dish is much misunderstood. Its main ingredient is flat-leaf parsley, not bulghur, though you often find it made the other way round. The traditional ratio is 9 parts parsley to 1 part bulghur wheat but you can play around with that and use a little more bulgur wheat to give it a nuttier texture. It is often served with the crisp cold inner leaves of Cos (Romaine) lettuce so guests can scoop up the tabbouleh in the lettuce cups. In Paula Wolfert’s recipe for Tabbouleh (The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook – Page 57), she soaks the bulghur in fresh lemon juice rather than water, then adds finely chopped tomatoes, spring onions (scallions), flat-leaf parsley, mint leaves and adds a pinch of cinnamon and extra virgin olive oil.
A recipe to make an authentic Tabbouleh (taboula) salad
Soak 50g bulgar until soft, drain and mix with 1 bunch of finely chopped parsley, 3 finely diced large tomatoes, 1/4 finely chopped cucumber, 3 finely sliced spring onions, 1/4 of a bunch of fresh mint, chopped finely, juice of 2 lemons, 3 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Bulghur Salad with Fruit and Toasted Cumin Recipe
This is a riff on a middle-eastern salad and is also a good way of using up cooked lentils. You can experiment and amplify any of the ingredients here, adding more fruit if you wish and changing the herbs to suit what you have in the kitchen. If you are the kind of person who likes chilli in everything, add a half a teaspoon of chopped red chilli.
Serves 3-4 as a side dish
2 tablespoons dried apricots
2 tablespoons dried sultanas
8 tablespoons pre-soaked bulghur wheat
8 tablespoons cooked lentils
4 tablespoons toasted walnuts or pistachios
4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoons fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon Za’atar or Sumac (if you have it)
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Soak the apricots and sultanas in a little boiling water to soften them. Drain and dry well. Chop the apricots finely.
2. Mix all of the ingredients – including the apricots and sultanas – together, seasoning well with salt and black pepper. Add more oil or lemon juice/vinegar if it needs more bite.
Serve this salad with roast duck breast or griddled chicken and hummous and tzatsiki; or with toasted pitta bread and a side dish of Greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top.
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