Nutritionists advise us to eat more bread, pasta and grains. However, besides rice, cornmeal and grits, there don't seem to be many grains around to vary our accompaniments or entrees.
One grain deserving more attention is bulgur wheat, which has a rich, nutty taste and is an important ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisines. The most famous bulgur dish in the West is tabbouleh, a Lebanese salad with parsley, mint and tomatoes. But there are many ways to use this versatile grain.
In Jerusalem, I've had peppery bulgur wheat topped with spicy meat stew, a specialty of the Kurdish Jews. In Los Angeles, I enjoyed an aromatic bulgur wheat salad with peppers and onions at the Armenian Cultural Festival.
Bulgur wheat is perfect for quick and easy cooking. It cooks in 15 minutes and is a delicious accompaniment for vegetables and meat. Bulgur was one of the world's first fast foods; it has been a staple in the Middle East since ancient times. For salads, it can be prepared even without cooking; the customary way to prepare tabbouleh is to steep the wheat in hot water.
Bulgur is basically wheat that has been steamed, dried and cracked into small pieces. This process makes the wheat fast and easy to cook at home, in contrast to whole wheat kernels, which require soaking and lengthy cooking. The bulgur grains are light brown.
* Serve this pilaf as a side dish with grilled or roasted chicken or a vegetarian main course, accompanied by yogurt and a Mediterranean salad of diced tomatoes, cucumbers and green onions.
& Bulgur wheat pilaf
Makes 4 main-course or 6 side-dish servings.
3 or 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, olive oil or butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups medium bulgur wheat
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth or water
salt, freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound mushrooms, halved and thinly sliced
2 cups cooked peas
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
/# Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons oil in
heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add bulgur and saute, stirring, 2 minutes. Add broth and salt and pepper to taste and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and salt and pepper to taste and saute until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add peas and heat through.
Gently stir mushroom mixture into bulgur pilaf with fork. Stir in parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings. Transfer to serving dish. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.
This colorful, tangy dish, redolent of fresh herbs and flavored with fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, is a perfect party dish.
Tabbouleh Makes about 8 appetizers or 4 to 6 main-course servings
1 1/2 cups fine or medium bulgur wheat
5 plum tomatoes
4 small pickling cucumbers or 1/2 long (European) cucumber
1 cup chopped parsley, preferably Italian
2/3 cup chopped fresh mint
4 green onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons lemon juice or more to taste
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or more to taste
salt, freshly ground pepper
Pour 5 cups hot water over bulgur wheat in large bowl and let it soak until completely cool. Transfer to colander and drain off excess water. Squeeze wheat dry and transfer to large bowl.
Dice tomatoes and cucumbers very small. Mix diced vegetables with parsley, mint, green onions and bulgur wheat. Add lemon juice and olive oil to taste (salad should be fairly tart). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve cold or at cool room temperature.
NOTE: For quick tabbouleh, cook bulgur wheat instead of steeping it. Combine bulgur wheat and 2 1/4 cups boiling water in medium saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat until tender and liquid is absorbed, 15 minutes. Turn out into large bowl and let cool. Continue with recipe as directed.
Los Angeles Times Syndicate