Turkish style bulgur pilaf is a classic hearty and healthy dish that is easy to make, is an alternative to rice, and can be served with many dishes.
You’ve been loving our Turkish recipes and I’m happy to let you know that more are coming! If you’re new here, make sure to check out recipes such as Turkish white bean salad and lahmacun (Turkish pizza). And if you’re a baker, don’t miss out on our step-by-step tutorial on how to make simit, it’s a keeper.
Bulgur pilaf: A classic
Bulgur pilaf or as the Turks call it, bulgur pilavi, is a classic Turkish dish that’s made with just a few ingredients and a staple of Turkish dinner tables. Every Turkish mom (anne) knows how to make it and it’s one of the first dishes a new cook will learn.
You can find bulgur pilaf in almost all restaurants. Many dishes come with a side of bulgur pilaf so usually there is no need to order it separately. With a little bit of yogurt, this dish is very comforting.
What is bulgur?
Bulgur is made by parboiling whole wheat and drying it (usually in the sun), and then grinding it into various grain sizes from fine to coarse. Fine bulgur is usually used for salads such as Turkish bulgur salad, tabouli or stuffed aubergine with bulgur. More coarse bulgur is usually used to make pilaf. Since bulgur is almost pre-cooked, it takes less time to cook it compared to whole wheat. Bulgur has a nutty texture and flavor that makes it a great option for side and main dishes. It should be noted that bulgur should not be confused with cracked wheat. Cracked wheat is made from wheat when it’s not par-boiled.
During the Ottoman era, rice was considered a luxury item that wasn’t available to everyone, leaving bulgur to be a staple in the Turkish kitchen. Up to this day, bulgur remains as a main ingredient in almost every Turkish home and many people prefer it to rice.
Is bulgur good for you?
Bulgur is very healthy and is packed with fiber and is a low calorie vegetarian and vegan staple in the kitchen. However, bulgur is not gluten-free since it’s made of whole wheat.
What’s the difference between couscous and bulgur?
Couscous and bulgur are two different items and there are some noteworthy differences. While there is only one size of couscous, bulgur comes in different grain sizes (from fine to extra coarse). Couscous is a staple of the North African kitchen and bulgur is a common item in Middle Eastern and some Mediterranean cuisines.
As mentioned before, bulgur is made from whole wheat but couscous is made from semolina which is husked and crushed wheat.
Turkish bulgur pilavi ingredients
Traditional bulgur pilaf recipe calls for the following ingredients:
- Olive oil
- Fresh tomatoes
- Green Pepper
- Tomato paste
That’s all. The seasoning for bulgur pilaf is simply salt, black pepper and urfa pepper or aleppo pepper which is optional. This simple Turkish recipe is packed fresh flavor thanks to fresh tomatoes, tomato paste and green pepper. I used Italian green peppers that are more tender and sweeter.
You can also use regular green bell pepper for this recipe. If you feel adventurous and want to make spicy bulgur, you can add some spicy peppers such as diced jalapeno as well.
How to make bulgur pilaf Turkish way
Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Wash the bulgur pilaf a few times and set it aside. Saute chopped onion until translucent and then add in the garlic. Cook for a minute and add chopped green pepper. Cook on medium low for a few minutes until the pepper starts to soften and the onion starts turning brown.
Add in chopped tomatoes and cook so they star releasing their juice. Add in the tomato paste, salt and pepper. Cooking tomato paste for a few minutes will help it release more color and flavor into the dish. Add in washed bulgur and stir well so it’s equally distributed. Turn the heat to medium high and add the water. Once it starts simmering, put the lid on and let it cook on medium until the water is almost completely evaporated. Wrap the lid in a clean kitchen towel and place it back on the pot. Turn the heat to low and cook for another ten minutes. Turn the heat off, let the bulgur sit for 5 minutes then fluff it with a fork.
What to serve with bulgur pilaf
As you see in the photos, bulgur pilaf is usually served individually. Transfer some bulgur pilaf to a small bowl and press it well. Place a plate on top of the bowl and invert it. The bulgur pilaf will come out easily as one beautiful dome. Traditionally, bulgur pilaf is served with some plain yogurt or cacik as a meal on its own. However, you can also serve it as a hearty side dish with some grilled saffron chicken or shish kabobs.
Can I make bulgur pilaf in advance? Yes! Bulgur keeps very well therefore you can make it a couple of days in advance and simply heat it in a pot or in the microwave when you’re ready to serve.
Notes and tips to make bulgur pilaf recipe at home
- As I mentioned before, bulgur comes in different sizes. To make Turkish bulgur pilaf, you should look for coarse bulgur. As for the color, you might see both light and dark varieties available. I suggest you choose the lighter one.
- Bulgur absorbs water as it cooks and it becomes fluffy. Check out the water while cooking the bulgur and add more water, 1/3 cup at a time if you feel that it’s not cooked yet.
- Store the leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days. To reheat, simply microwave or heat on the stove top over medium low heat.
- You can always add more vegetables to bulgur such as mushrooms, corn or green peas.
Turkish Bulgur Pilaf Recipe
Turkish style bulgur pilaf is a classic hearty and healthy side dish dish that is very easy to make. It's a great alternative to rice and can be served with many dishes.
- 2 cups bulgur coarse
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 green pepper diced
- 3 roma tomatoes chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 3 1/2 cup water
Wash the bulgur in a bowl and set it aside.
Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Saute onion until translucent and then add the minced garlic. Cook for a minute.
Add in diced green pepper and cook for a few minutes until it softens.
Add in chopped tomatoes and stir well. Cook until they start releasing their juice.
Add the tomato paste and mix well so it combines with the other ingredients.
Add salt and pepper and add in the bulgur. Stir well.
Turn the heat to medium high and add the water. Once it comes to simmer, lower the heat to medium, cover with a lid and cook for about 20-25 minutes until the water is almost completely evaporated.
Wrap the lid in a clean kitchen towel and place it on the pot. Turn the heat to medium low and cook for another 10 minutes.
Turn the heat off the let the bulgur sit for 5 minutes untouched, then fluff it with a fork and serve.