Monday, 11 April 2011

Bulghar wheat and spinach pilaf

This is a perfectly gorgeous dinner - an onion-y, chilli tomato-ey delicious platter of grains you can scoop and scoop and scoop from. It's also brilliant for entertaining - just up the quantities. This would also work extremely well at a picnic or barbecue, is still delicious cold, and is easy to prepare in advance. It's also a very straightforward thing to make, it's almost a salad - almost, but SO much more fantastic. This is a brilliant one for summer, so if you've been enjoying the sunshine, bookmark this one as a nice warm weather lunch or dinner.

The only unusual ingredient in this, with the exception of Harissa used on the tomatoes (any Mediterranean shop - I get mine in Phoenicia in Kentish Town), is bulghar wheat. This is available from my local supermarket, and is a quick-cooking form of wheat which has been parboiled. It looks like Demerara sugar - don't put it in your coffee - and has a slightly nutty but wonderfully versatile flavour. It is an absolute doddle to make - simmer, then leave to soak, 25 minutes start to finish. And it's rich in fibre, low in fat, and a popular staple in Middle Eastern food. A little research also turned up that it's really rich in minerals, - iron, phosphorus and zinc (the most common nutritional deficiency) to name a few. 
I feel like many people my age really neglect the sheer amount of variety  on offer, especially when it comes to grains. Couscous was a massive discovery for me when I was a student, and most people I know have never heard of bulghar wheat.  That said, I'm fortunate enough to live in a place where I'm frequently baffled by the sheer expanse of ingredients on offer in my local supermarket, even, let alone if I was to take the bus into Soho. However,  you can substitute couscous for bulghar wheat, if you like, and still enjoy the deeply refreshing and satisfying pilaf. And healthy to boot, seriously. This is a dream food. My new aim for the summer is to make this and bring it to the park to be eaten with maximum joy.

Bulghar wheat and spinach pilaf (serves 4-ish)
To make things easier, and following the original recipe's lead, I've kept the ingredients separated into sections. 

10 to 12 plum tomatoes (sliced into segments)
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1.5 tsp Harissa paste (or a sprinkle of chilli flakes if you don't have it.)
2 tsp Muscavado/soft, dark sugar 

170g bulghar wheat
295ml vegetable stock 
1 onion (finely chopped)
2 cloves of garlic (peeled and sliced)
300g spinach
Decent handful of mint (chopped)
4 tbsp olive oil
Feta cheese 

Onions (which get scattered on top)
2 onions, (thinly sliced into semi-circles)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp Muscavado/soft, dark sugar 
1/2 lemon (juiced)

Pre-heat your oven to 200C and start with your tomatoes as they'll take around 30 minutes. I've already used this method in the breakfast recipe with soda farls - sometimes chilli tomatoes are just what the doctor ordered to perk your morning up. But slice the tomatoes, and in a small bowl, mix the olive oil, Harissa and balsamic. Put the tomatoes in a roasting tin and pour over the sauce, using your hands to ensure a nice even coverage, then sprinkle over the sugar to result in some delicious caramelised tomatoes.

Tomatoes roasted in Harissa, balsamic and olive oil 
These can be hot or cold when the pilaf is served - and they are DELICIOUS. Sweet and chewy with a fantastic chilli kick to offset the sugar. Cooks perks deem, in my view,  you definitely get to have a snack on one or two of these lovely tomatoes of them before dinner is served. 
Meanwhile, start on your pilaf. Put the chopped onion in 2tbsp of olive oil in a nice big pot (that you have a lid for) and fry for a few minutes until softened, then add the garlic and let that soften as well. With your 295ml (I'm sure 300ml would be fine...) stock at the ready, tip in the bulghar wheat on top of the onions, stir, and quickly pour over the stock. Bring to boiling, then turn the heat right down to a low simmer for around 15 minutes - I like to give it an occasional stir . After this time, you can turn off the heat completely, put the lid on and let it sit for 10 minutes or so. You can chop your mint now, if you haven't already. 
While this is happening, you can get on with your spinach. Probably do this in two goes, as I get spinach everywhere when I try to do 300g in one go.
Spinach prior to frying - this is about as soggy as I let it go. If you have a few unwilted leaves left, it's nice to have a mix. 
Rapidly rinse the spinach then use your hands to shake the water off it. Put it into a big pan on a high heat and let it wilt slightly then drain into the sink and let it sit for a few minutes until it's cool enough that you can squeeze out some of the excess water. I don't like the spinach to lose too much of its shape, and I think it tastes much nicer when its closer to raw than completely steamed and bitter. Roughly chop chop chop on a chopping board, then throw it into a frying pan, or the pot you used to wilt it if it's dry enough in 2tbsp of olive oil. Fry very briefly, then add to the pilaf. I usually don't wait for the pilaf to be fully done before adding. Put it in, give it a stir, replace the lid.
Now you just have to do your onions, which are rapidly fried until crispy. On a high heat, add the onions and stir frequently, and right when they are getting good and crispy, add the cinnamon (just a pinch!) and the sugar, then take off the heat.
Onions, crisping up
To assemble, on your nicest, biggest plate (if you have one), tip out the bulghar and spinach. Then scatter over the mint. Then add the tomatoes and finally the crispy onions. Take a good handful of feta and crumble over, then tip over your lemon juice.
Serve with whatever you like - I find hummus is a lovely thing to put with it, and if you want to make sure your guests are damn well fed, you can also make up some falafel and an olivey-Greek salad to go with it!

Falafel, Greek salad and the bulghar wheat pilaf on its way to the table.
Credit where credit is due: 101 Cookbooks


  1. Awh yeah awaiting for that park run :D

  2. I'm going to try this for my potluck at work... will let you know how it goes :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...