When I was younger, my mom would pull out an exotic-looking box of “Near East Wheat Pilaf” and cook it up. It smelled great and while it was salty, it was a satisfying and filling side dish.
bulgur wheat, ready for cooking
Once I was on my own, I discovered bulgur wheat–the basis of that pilaf, was available in most health food stores.
Most bulgur sold in bulk at health food stores is from durham wheat, but it is not cracked wheat–it’s parboiled, dried and de-branned. Cracked wheat is not par-boiled.
I found some that was whole grain (not de-branned). I prefer the bulgur for its light, nutty flavor. No worries, though. Even the de-branned kind has about 8 grams of fiber per 100 grams of raw bulgur and 12 grams of protein. It also has a low glycemic index number of 46. In other words, it’s yummy and better for you than rice and couscous.
The advantage of de-branning is in preparation time. It doesn’t take long to cook at all. A two serving portion can be done in 15 minutes. I bring mine to a boil in chicken stock (beef stock also works) and then turn off the heat and let it soak up the water. When done, I add cracked pepper, chopped parsley and a pat of butter and it’s a great side dish.
As a main dish, I cook it the same way, then add tiny meatballs (made from turkey) in their own brown sauce, or chicken/basil sausage. If you are a vegetarian, you can cook it in vegetable stock, add a variety of cooked beans or lentils and top with grated cheese. Vegans can skip the cheese.
You can add an astonishing variety of vegetables to bulgur and get different tastes. Chopped tomatoes and caramalized onions gives a rich, hearty taste. Chopped peppers (in a mix of colors and heats) keeps it light and crunchy. Add minced parsley, fresh tomatoes, peppers, and a handful of crushed nuts, and top it with a spicy vinaigrette and you have a delicious salad that makes a great main meal.
In India, bulgur is served as a cereal, with milk and sugar. I’m sure it’s good, but I’m still smiling over the variety and versatility of this simple and delicious grain.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach, who teaches business communication and personal journal-writing workshops.