Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Bulgur: The Armenian Almost-Instant Meal
Bulgur might have been the original ready-made meal in a box, if boxes were as old as bulgur.
Instead, it was the original ready-made meal wrapped in a kerchief or packed into a saddle pouch, the most reliable way to fill the belly along the loneliest stretches of the Silk Road.
Bulgur (or bulghur) is made from wheat kernels that have been steamed, dried and crushed. It needs nothing but water to transform itself from something that looks like coarse sand into a chewy yet tender cereal.
It's remarkably filling, and loaded with all the good stuff you expect from whole grain. Best of all, you can keep on loading. Add noodles for a rice-less pilaf, add meat for a truly hearty meal. Or steam in your favorite veggies.
Bulgur absorbs flavors brilliantly, whether you stir in tomatoes, onions, or butter -- or substitute your favorite stock for water.
Bulgur generally comes in three sizes, fine (#1) for kufta (Armenian stuffed meatballs) and in soup; medium (#2) for tabbouleh and pilaf; and coarse (#3) for pilaf and in stuffing. A fourth size is sometimes available, and it is larger still.
All the Armenian cooks I know have their own bulgur size preference, as I have mine. I mostly use #1 and #2. No one has complained yet.
Experiment with the various bulgur sizes to see which works best in your preparations.
The most obvious place to buy bulgur is in a Middle Eastern grocery store. There you’ll find a plentiful supply of all the sizes with the lowest prices. If you don’t live near one, look in a health food store. They usually have pre-packed bulgur in a few sizes, at a higher price.
Chain grocery stores don’t generally stock plain bulgur. However, I have seen pre-packaged mixes for tabbouleh with the bulgur grain included with a seasoning mix. (Try to avoid those, unless you are truly desperate!) Whole Foods Markets carry bulgur, but be prepared to pay the price.
The Internet is another way to track down bulgur. Some Middle Eastern stores have websites where you can order on-line and have it delivered to your door.
Tabbouleh (Sarma Gurgood)
Yield: 8 servings
2 cups( #2) Bulgur
Tap water (see directions for amount)
Cumin, to taste
Paprika, to taste
Allspice, to taste
¼ tsp cayenne pepper, optional
3 scallions, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems removed, thoroughly washed, & roughly chopped
4 oz tomato paste, diluted in a 2 to 3 tablespoons of water
1 to 2 Tbsp. red pepper paste, optional
Juice of one lemon
Approx. ½ cup olive oil
1. Place bulgur in a large mixing bowl.
2. Measure 2 cups of water from the faucet. Pour the water over the bulgur and stir. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow the bulgur to soak up the water, about 20 - 30 minutes, until it begins to soften. The grains should not become mushy. Strain any excess water. The bulgur grains should be tender, but with a slightly chewy texture. The grains will continue to soften as it absorbs moisture from the other ingredients.
3. Stir in all of the spices, onions, scallions, mint, parsley, diluted tomato paste, lemon juice to the bulgur. Add the oil a little at a time. NOTE: If using red pepper paste in addition to tomato paste, dilute the pepper paste along with the tomato paste.
4. Sample the tabbouleh, and adjust the seasonings according to your taste.
5. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
(Note: This recipe is best when made ahead of time so the flavors can blend.)