To switch things up from your regular white rice side dish, try this hearty Turkish style bulgur pilaf. Coarse bulgur wheat is cooked stovetop with onions, peppers, garlic and Turkish red pepper paste for a deeply flavourful and slightly chewy pilaf. This easy-to-follow recipe is ready in just 30 minutes!
What is Bulgur?
Whenever I'm sick of eating rice dishes, I make my other favourite grain: bulgur. And I make it in quite a few different ways, but this Turkish style pilaf is my favourite. Also, bulgur is much more superior than brown rice, in my opinion. I said it.
Bulgur is a middle eastern cracked whole grain wheat that is parboiled and dried, which is why it cooks faster than other whole grains such as brown rice. It is sold in different sizes, and they're either numbered (1-3 or 4) or labelled as fine, medium, coarse or extra coarse.
Fine bulgur (#1) is used in salads like Tabouli and doesn't require cooking. It just needs to soak in water. Medium bulgur (#2) is generally used in food like Kibbeh, while coarse or extra coarse bulgur (#3 and #4) is cooked into a pilaf like in this recipe. I also use coarse bulgur for this incredible bulgur salad - not to miss!
Turkish bulgur pilaf is almost always served at Turkish restaurants with grilled meat and as a staple side dish. I highly recommend making it alongside shish tawook or kofta, and serving it with this cucumber and yogurt salad. And if you really wanted to feel like you're at a Turkish restaurant, serve it with Ayran to drink! So good!
You can find Bulgur in middle eastern or Turkish grocery stores or in the international aisle of your local grocery store.
In this Bulgur Pilaf, we use coarse bulgur (see photo above) which generally needs about 1.5-2 cups water for every 1 cup of Bulgur (similar to long grain rice). If you're unsure about the size of your bulgur, check the package label for guidance on the water ratio.
Ingredients used to make this Bulgur Pilaf
Here's what you'll need:
- Coarse bulgur. I use the #3 bulgur which you can find at middle eastern or Turkish stores, or your local grocery store's international aisle.
- Onions, peppers and garlic. These are the flavour enhances in this dish. You can use red pepper or any other colour of pepper.
- Butter and olive oil to add a good amount of fat and flavour.
- Tomato paste and red pepper paste. More on red pepper paste below!
- Salt, black pepper and dry mint for seasoning. The dry mint is a pleasant surprise and makes this dish so unique!
Turkish Red Pepper Paste
One of the most common ingredients in Turkish cuisine is red pepper paste, or Biber Salcasi. It's made by blending cooked red peppers and salt into a thick red paste. It comes in three varieties:
- Sweet red pepper paste (no spice)
- Mild red pepper paste
- Spicy red pepper paste
All three can be used interchangeable in recipes based on your spice preference. You can find it at local middle eastern or Turkish grocery stores.
It adds a deep umami flavour and compliments tomato paste really well. If you really can't get your hands on it (shame) then do try this recipe anyway and replace it with more tomato paste.
How to make this recipe step-by-step:
Start by heating the butter and olive oil in a deep skillet or pot. Then, add the diced onions and diced peppers and soften them for a few minutes, until the onions are translucent.
Next, add the minced garlic, salt and pepper. Mix for a few minutes. Next add the red pepper paste and tomato paste and mix together for a few minutes to caramelize the pastes and create a deeper flavour.
Then, add the dried mint. The dried mint doesn't need to be toasted or cooked, so move on to the next step soon after adding it.
Add the washed and drained bulgur in the skillet. Mix together until it combines with the vegetables, tomato paste and red pepper paste.
Add the broth (or water if that's what you're using) and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, cover the skillet with a tight fitting lid and bring the heat down to low. Leave the bulgur untouched for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, open the lid and fluff the bulgur with a fork. Taste and ensure the grain is soft and slightly chewy. It's now ready to be served.
How to serve Bulgur
This Turkish style bulgur pilaf is typically served alongside grilled meat at restaurants. My favourite way to serve it is either with plain yogurt or with Jajik (a cucumber yogurt salad). My husband will happily have it on its own as a main as well; it's that good! You can also it add it to lunch bowls as a grain alternative alongside salads and proteins.
If you have extra chickpeas lying around, you can also add them to the bulgur pilaf (when adding the bulgur) to add more protein. I often cook it that way!
Is Bulgur healthy?
Bulgur is used commonly in Arabic and Turkish cuisine and is considered a staple grain. It's packed with vitamins and minerals, and has a good amount of fibre (more than rice!). Fibre rich food is always great to include in your diet. In fact, bulgur actually has more than twice the amount of fibre found in brown rice. And it cooks way faster!
More Side Dish Recipes:
30-Minute Bulgur Pilaf (Turkish Recipe)
- 2 cups coarse bulgur (#3)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion finely diced
- 1 red bell pepper finely diced
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon sweet red pepper paste
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried mint
- 4 cups chicken broth or water
- In a saucepan or large skillet, melt the butter along with the olive oil over medium heat
- Add the chopped onions and cook for 4-5 minutes until softened
- Add in the chopped peppers and continue sautéing for another 2-3 minutes
- Add in the minced garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes
- Season with pepper and salt and mix for about 1-2 minutes
- Add in the red pepper paste and tomato paste, mixing until combined, about 1-2 minutes
- Next add in the dried mint and then the bulgur, mix well until fully combined
- Pour in the water or broth and allow the mixture to come to a boil
- Reduce heat to low, cover with a tight fitting lid and simmer for 25 minutes
- Fluff up the bulgur and serve with yogurt and mint.
- Make sure you use coarse bulgur for this recipe (usually marked #3). The fine bulgur varieties have a different cooking method and won't yield the same results.
- You can use green or yellow bell peppers instead of red.
- If you can't find red pepper paste, you can replace it with more tomato paste.