There was a time when I cooked bulgur several times a month. The par-boiled and ground wheat was cheap, filling, and a great base for one-pot meals with vegetables and chicken.
I loved the mild, nutty flavor and nicely chewy texture. But bulgur slipped out of my repertoire when I began experimenting more in the kitchen and homey pilafs gave way to sophisticated risottos.
This winter, though, I’ve rediscovered the simple pleasures of the quick-cooking grain in my quest to put more whole grains on our plates. Prepared in the style of a risotto with mushrooms, butternut squash and spinach, it makes a terrific entree for Meatless Monday or a side dish for grilled meat.
Bulgur is a staple in the Middle East and may well have been the first convenience food. Archaeologists date the cereal back at least as far as Bulgaria in 5900 BC, where it was pre-cooked and dried before being ground, much as it is today.
You may have eaten it in tabouleh or kibbeh, the meatballs popular throughout Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. It retains most of its nutrients and is a far better source of protein and fiber than brown rice Look for it in the bulk bins of natural foods stores or in the supermarket cereal aisle alongside the steel-cut oats and seven-grain blends.
Unlike many whole grains, bulgur cooks in 20 minutes or less. It can be soaked in boiling water or simmered in chicken broth. Vegetable broth is a good alternative but makes for a slightly sweeter dish.
I give the grain a risotto treatment – minus the constant stirring – in this pilaf of winter vegetables. Half a cup of dry white wine, stirred in after the bulgur cooks for a few minutes, makes all the difference in the finished dish. Baby spinach is added in the last five minutes for the nutritional blessings of greens without all the prep work of kale and chard.
Bulgur has earned a prominent place in my pantry once again.
1/2 medium butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 pound button mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups bulgur
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 pound baby spinach, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel squash, scrape out seeds, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cubes in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, toss and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until squash is tender but not mushy. Set squash aside while the pilaf cooks.In a 5 quart dutch oven, warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and add onions. Cook onions about 5 minutes, until soft and golden. Add mushrooms and cook until limp, about 5 minutes more. Stir in garlic and bulgur. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the grain begins to toast. Pour in wine and cook a couple of minutes more, stirring occasionally, until wine is absorbed. Pour in broth, stir well, bring to a boil, and lower heat. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.
Stir in spinach, cover, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in squash. Cover, turn off heat, and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese and serve.