Turkish Bulgur Pilaf Recipe

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Turkish style bulgur pilaf is a classic hearty and healthy dish that is easy to make. This dish is an alternative to rice or bread, and can be served with many dishes. 

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. 


 

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. The recipe I’m sharing with you today is an all time favorite Turkish side dish called bulgur pilaf. It’s an easy dish that pairs well with many main dishes such as grilled chicken. 

About this recipe

Bulgur pilaf or as the Turks call it, bulgur pilavi, is a classic dish that’s made with just a few ingredients and is 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 Turkish restaurants. Many dishes such as doner plate 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. 

Everything you need to know about 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 (Kisir)tabouli or stuffed aubergine with bulgur. 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. 

How did bulgur become a staple in the Turkish kitchen? 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 even though rice pilaf has become a staple as well.. Turkish cuisine offers so many ways to use coarse or fine bulgur such as using it to make side dishes, salads and even vegan “meatballs”.

Close up shot of the final bulgur dish.

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. If you are following a gluten-free diet, please keep that in mind. 

Ingredients

To make turkish bulgur you need bulgur, olive oil, onion, tomatoe, pepper, tomato paste and garlic.
  • Bulgur: As I mentioned above, we use coarse bulgur to make this recipe. the grains are larger and they take longer to cook compared to fine bulgur. You can find coarse bulgur in Middle Eastern or Mediterranean stores as well as many supermarkets.
  • Vegetables: You are going to need onion, garlic, tomatoes and green peppers. Turkish people usually use Carliston pepper which is very similar to sweet banana pepper. However, if that’s not available, you can use Italian green pepper or simply green bell pepper.
  • Tomato paste: A staple in Turkish cuisine, tomato paste adds both color and flavor to the dish.

How to make bulgur pilaf 

  • Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Wash the bulgur pilaf a few times and set it aside. Sauté chopped onion until translucent and then add in the garlic. Cook for a minute and add the green pepper. Cook on medium low for a few minutes until the pepper starts to soften and the onion starts turning brown. 
  • Add in the 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 the 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. 
to make bulgur pilaf saute onion and garlic add peppers add tomato and tomato paste add washed bulgur and water then cook and fluff using a fork.

Serving suggestions

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 Turkish stuffed eggplant (karniyarik), grilled zaatar chicken, shish tawook or beef shish kabob.

Frequently asked questions

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. 

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. 

What cookware works best for this recipe?

You can use a non stick saucepan or a Dutch oven for this recipe.

How can I make this dish spicy?

The flavors of this dish come from all the vegetables and the addition of salt and pepper. However, if you would like to jazz things up, add some Aleppo pepper (Pul Biber) to give it a kick.

Notes and tips

  • 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. 
  • Instead of water you can use vegetable or chicken stock.
  • 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. 
Two plates of food with yogurt and cucumber.

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bulgur pilaf.
4.71 from 110 votes

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. 
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
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Ingredients 

  • 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

Instructions 

  • Place the bulgur in a bowl and rinse a few times. Set it aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion until translucent and then add the minced garlic. Cook for a minute. 
  • Add in the diced green pepper and cook for a few minutes until it softens. 
  • Add in the chopped tomatoes and stir well. Cook until they start releasing their juice. 
  • Add the tomato paste and stir well so it combines with the other ingredients. 
  • Add the salt and pepper and add in the rinsed bulgur. Stir well. 
  • Turn the heat to medium high and add in the water. Once it comes to a 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. 

Video

Notes

  • As 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 340kcal | Carbohydrates: 62g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 366mg | Potassium: 574mg | Fiber: 15g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 589IU | Vitamin C: 35mg | Calcium: 51mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Shadi HasanzadeNemati

I'm here to show you how to make delicious Persian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food at home. My easy to follow recipes will bring exciting new flavors to your table!

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62 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This was a really nice starch to go with our meal. This recipe has so much flavor and texture! It’s definitely going into the rotation.

  2. 5 stars
    This bulgur pilaf is one of my favorite side dishes! I’ve made it several times and it’s definitely on our regular rotation now!

  3. 5 stars
    Superb side dish, healthy carb for my workout routine. I had this with oven chicken and plain fat free yogurt. It was amazing. I’ve ditched rice, and this is now my THING! Thank you!

  4. 5 stars
    I’ve now made this several times and had to stop by and say how much my family loves it! Thank you for a great, easy recipe. I did use chicken broth instead of water as suggested, and if I’m cooking for people who like a little kick I use hot pepper paste purchased at my local halal market, instead of the tomato paste. It’s delicious either way. I like to serve it with chicken kofte (sp?) also purchased from the Halal market, and their famous white sauce on top. Thanks again! 🙂

  5. 5 stars
    This looks delicious and will definitely cook it as trying to eat a healthier diet and ditch potatoes