Bulgur, Two Ways

There’s a good amount of bulgur in Armenian food; two of my favorite dishes would be reduced to practically nothing without cracked wheat. When I was growing up, one of my favorite meals to come home to was a very simple bulgur pilaf. Comprised exclusively of bulgur, chick peas and chicken, it’s the definition of comfort food. It’s also completely easy to make.

Bulgur Pilaf with Chicken and Chick Peas
Makes six portions

2 cups bulgur
1 can chick peas, liquid reserved
1 pound chicken (I prefer white meat, but I’ve had this with chicken thighs too)
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup olive oil

  1. Boil chicken in salted water, constantly skimming foam off of surface. When cooked, remove chicken from water with a slotted spoon; cool, and julienne. Reserve liquid.
  2. Sauté the bulgur in butter over medium heat; add olive oil and salt to taste, and continue sautéing. Add six cups of reserved chicken liquid; if necessary, use boiled water. Cook until the liquid is almost entirely absorbed, about fifteen minutes. If the bulgur is still crunchy, add some chick pea liquid or hot water and continue to cook until soft.
  3. Add the chickpeas and chicken; add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Mix well and serve.

This next recipe is one that I didn’t grow up with, but it’s still utterly enjoyable. The spices add just the right amount of bite to the bulgur. Just as easy as the chicken and chick pea recipe, this version is both sweet and savory.

Bulgur Pilaf with Dried Apricots
Makes six portions

1 finely chopped onion
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 cup bulgur
½ cup chopped dried apricots

  1. Cook onion in oil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about five minutes.
  2. Add spices and cook, stirring, one minute. Stir in remaining ingredients with one teaspoon salt and five cups water; simmer covered, until liquid is absorbed, about fifteen minutes. If the bulgur is still crunchy, add some hot water and continue to cook until soft. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, five minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
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Arabic Comfort Food.

I was raised on what I suppose could be called a fusion diet. When I was growing up, most of the cooking was done by my Filipina mother, but a majority of the meals she prepared were Armenian, Lebanese or Middle Eastern in origin, to please my often-nostalgic father. Otherwise, we ate Asian dishes, and items like Italian-ish pastas, Spanish-y paellas and vaguely French chickens. Cuisine notwithstanding, I’ve come to realize that my mother is a completely intimidating force in the kitchen. She can bang out dinner for twelve as easily as she can for two, without ever compromising on taste or quality. Additionally, she has the ability to tease the most flavorful results from a new recipe, a skill I’m terribly envious of.

One of my favorite dishes from my youth actually has Arabic roots; I know I’m butchering it by attempting to spell it with the English alphabet but here goes: mejadara. I had to consult my dad to get the most accurate spelling; even he was uncertain as to what vowels and consonents to string together.

Mejadara is as easy to make as it is difficult to spell; literally all the cook must do is combined sweet caramelized onions, earthy lentils and nutty bulgur. Served warm, cold or at room temperature, it’s my equivalent of comfort food.

Mejadara
makes six generous portions

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Ingredients
1 cup lentils
1 cup bulgur
2 medium-sized onions, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt, to taste

img_2191.jpg1. Melt butter over high heat. Add oil and continue to heat until the mixture is very hot but not smoking. Add the onions and immediately reduce flame to medium. Stir frequently, adjusting heat and adding oil as necessary so that onions do not burn. Continue until the onions are golden brown, approximately twenty minutes.

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2. In the meantime, combine lentils and three cups of water over medium fire. Add a pinch or two salt and cook until the water is almost completely absorbed by lentils, about twenty minutes. Add more water if the lentils are still a bit hard.

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3. Add bulgur and three additional cups of water, as well as another pinch or two of salt. Mix well with lentils and cook until the water is almost completely absorbed by lentils, about twenty minutes. Add more water if the lentils are still a bit hard.

4. Combine lentil/bulgur mixture with onions and serve.