Cracked from parcooked, whole-grain durum wheat, bulgur has a chewy-firm texture and a nutty, wheaty flavor. It’s also easy to prepare and adaptable, working well in hearty pilafs, beef or lamb kibbe (meatballs), and in soups and stews. Or try it anywhere you might use rice, adding just a little butter or olive oil and generous seasoning of salt and coarse pepper.
Bulgur is sold in four grades, from fine to coarse. The smallest, lightest-textured bulgur is typically used for tabbouleh and kibbeh and hydrates quickly in cool to warm water. Larger-grained bulgur requires a quick simmer to cook through, making it perfect for hearty pilafs or stews. As with most grains, bulgur can be toasted before being hydrated to intensify its flavor. Stir in a dry skillet over medium heat until the grain smells toasty and picks up color, about 5 minutes.
Try using fine-grain bulgur in our tabbouleh recipe, in which we purposely underhydrate the grain so that it absorbs the flavorful juices of the chopped tomatoes. We also add allspice and sumac to the liquid to perk up the flavor.
Or try an all-purpose pilaf: Herbed Bulgur Pilaf with Crispy Spiced Chickpeas. Loaded with herbs and offset by the crunchy texture of the spiced-and-fried chickpeas, the pilaf is a meal in itself or perfect with most any meat. Or skip the chickpeas and serve cool or at room temperature with a tangle of shaved vegetables—radish, cucumber, fennel, zucchini or carrot—and a handful of crumbled feta or goat cheese.
Pro Tip: Grinding Bulgur to Size
While I recommend keeping both fine and coarse bulgur stocked in your pantry, if you only have coarse bulgur, it can be ground down. If you need fine-ground bulgur for a recipe such as tabbouleh, pulse it in 1-second bursts in a spice grinder until light and fluffy, about 6 to 10 pulses total (shaking between pulses to ensure an even grind).
This hearty pilaf is excellent with grilled meats or seafood. Or add walnuts and feta cheese to make a light vegetarian meal.
In a 10-inch skillet over medium, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering. Add 1 finely chopped red bell pepper, the chopped whites of 1 bunch of scallions (reserve the greens) and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pepper is tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in 3 minced garlic cloves, 1½ teaspoons ground cumin and 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, then cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in 3 tablespoons tomato paste, 1½ cups water, 1¼ teaspoons salt and 1 cup coarse bulgur. Bring to a boil over medium-high. Cover, reduce to low and simmer until the bulgur has absorbed the liquid, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wide, shallow bowl and cool until warm, about 5 minutes. Fold in 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses followed by 1 pint halved cherry tomatoes, ¾ cup chopped fresh mint or flat-leaf parsley and the reserved scallion greens, thinly sliced. Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional molasses.
These Lebanese-style meat patties are equally good made with ground lamb. If you like, serve them with a simple dipping sauce made from 1 cup Greek yogurt, ¼ cup tahini, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, a handful chopped parsley and lemon juice, salt and cayenne pepper.
Grate 1 medium yellow onion on the large holes of a box grater, catching the pulp and liquid in a medium bowl. Stir in ½ cup fine bulgur and 2 teaspoons salt. Set aside for 10 minutes, or until the bulgur has absorbed the onion liquid and is slightly softened. Add 12 ounces ground beef or lamb, 1 egg, ¼ cup toasted-and-chopped pine nuts, pistachios or almonds, 3 grated garlic cloves and ¾ teaspoon each ground allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne and black pepper. Mix well, then cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Form the mixture into 12 balls and place on an oiled baking sheet. Flatten the balls into ½-inch-thick patties. In a 12-inch skillet over medium, heat 2 tablespoons neutral oil until barely smoking. Add half the patties and cook until browned and crisp on the bottoms, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook until the second sides are browned and crisp, another 4 minutes, then transfer to a plate before repeating with remaining patties. Alternatively, grill over a medium-hot fire until crisped and browned, about 4 minutes per side. Serve with tahini sauce (see above) or tucked into pita pockets with lettuce, sliced tomato and Greek yogurt.
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