Monday, February 16, 2004

The late Bert Greene wrote in his classic “The Grains Cookbook” (Workman), “When I first decided to write a book about grains, it was with decided misgivings. These ‘high fiber foods,’ as nutritionists call them, were being ignored by much of the population, yet they were being touted in every newspaper and magazine as a major source of complex carbohydrates, fiber and vitamins.”

Mr. Greene wrote that most of the grains dishes he had sampled had been “boring.” Of course, his book, still in print after all these years, did more than its share to remedy the situation.

Now, more than 15 years later, the grains scene has changed remarkably. Restaurants and even prepared-food counters at supermarkets offer a variety of grain dishes, few of which are boring.

Among my favorite grains is bulgur. I like its nutty flavor and fluffy texture, and because it cooks so quickly, it’s perfect for a fast-fix meal.

The following recipe for bulgur pilaf with tomatoes and chickpeas is a perfect all-vegetable main dish. I like to serve it with a side dish of steamed broccoli with garlic and hot red pepper flakes.

For dessert, serve luscious ripe Bartlett pears cut into thin wedges. Nothing boring about that, either..

Bulgur pilaf with tomatoes and chickpeas

The preparation time is 10 minutes, and the cooking time is about 30 minutes.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained, patted dry

1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges

2 cups medium- or coarse-grain bulgur (see note)

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2½ cups water, vegetable or chicken broth, or half broth and half water

1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice


¼ cup chopped dill

Heat oil in large a saute pan or broad saucepan. Add chickpeas and onion, and cook, stirring, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add bulgur; cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Add garlic and cumin. Cook 1 minute. Stir in water, broth or combination and tomatoes with juice. Add salt to taste. Heat to a boil. Stir once. Cover and cook over very low heat until liquid is absorbed and bulgur is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with dill and serve.

Note: Bulgur, also called cracked wheat, comes in fine, medium and coarse grains. For this pilaf, use a medium- or coarse-grain bulgur. Makes 4 servings.

Broccoli with garlic and hot red pepper flakes

The preparation time is 10 minutes, and the cooking time is about 10 minutes.

1 bunch broccoli

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

Pinch hot red pepper flakes

Trim tips of broccoli stalks and discard. Cut 2- to 3-inch pieces from stalks of broccoli; peel off tough outside layer, and cut lengthwise into ½-inch-wide pieces. Separate broccoli florets with short stems into serving pieces.

Place about ½ inch water in a large, deep saucepan. Place a vegetable steamer in the saucepan, and heat water to a boil. Add broccoli. Cover and cook until tender-crisp, about 4 minutes. Remove broccoli from steamer, and remove steamer from saucepan. Discard water, and wipe the pan dry.

Combine olive oil and garlic in saucepan. Heat, stirring, over medium-low heat just until garlic begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add broccoli and hot red pepper flakes. Toss to coat with the hot oil. Spoon into a dish and serve. Makes 4 servings.


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