Bulgur wheat (Recipe: bulgur with cheese and eggplant)
You're looking at the photo. I know what you're thinking.
Oh, no, here comes the tabbouleh.
If you're a cook of a certain age, you discovered tabbouleh in the Sixties, when "cream" was a rock band and a "big hunk" was a candy bar.
It would have been easy enough to write about tabbouleh, the best-use-of-parsley-as-a-vegetable staple of Middle Eastern cooking, because I first added bulgur to my pantry years ago precisely so I could prepare it for a summer buffet. But then I wouldn't have time to tell you about kibbe and pilaf, and bulgur salads with fruit or chickpeas or nuts.
Bulgur is whole wheat kernels that have been steamed or boiled, dried, and crushed. Also called bulghur, or burghul (in Arabic), it has a tender, chewy texture and comes in coarse, medium and fine grinds. According to author Claudia Roden, in the days before mechanization, bulgur was made collectively; the men harvested the wheat, the women separated the wheat from the chaff. The wheat is boiled for hours in huge pots until it splits, and then it's dried in the sun, spread out on large sheets laid on rooftops or in fields. When dry, the grain goes to a stone mill.
Often, bulgur is soaked prior to cooking, but it's very forgiving. If you forget to presoak, simply pour boiling water over the bulgur and let it stand in a bowl for a few minutes while you are prepping the remaining ingredients for your recipe. One cup of dry yields three cups of cooked, no matter which way you fix it.
Bulgur with cheese and eggplant
From The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, by Claudia Roden, this Syrian recipe combines bulgur with salty cheese and smooth eggplant. If you cannot find halloumi, substitute feta or mozzarella. Serves 4-6, as a vegetarian main dish or a side dish with grilled chicken and a spinach salad.
1 eggplant (approx. 3/4 lb) cut into 1-inch cubes
1-1/2 large onions, diced
2 cups coarse-ground bulgur, washed in cold water and drained
3-1/4 cups boiling water or chicken stock
7-9 oz halloumi or feta cheese, cubed
Sprinkle the eggplant generously with salt and leave in a colander for 30 minutes. Rinse, and dry with paper towels.
Fry the onions in 2 Tbsp oil until golden. Add the bulgur and stir. Pour in the boiling water or stock, season with salt and pepper, and stir well. Cover and cook on very low heat for 15 minutes, or until the water as has been absorbed and the bulgur is tender.
Fry the eggplant briefly in hot oil, turning the cubes so that they are lightly colored all over. Lift out, and drain on paper towels.
Stir 4 Tbsp oil into the bulgur. Add the cheese and eggplant, and gently fold together. Heat through with the lid on until the cheese is soft. Serve very hot.