September is Whole Grains Month. While all of us here at Oldways enjoy delicious and healthy whole grains every month, we’re ramping things up an extra notch in September with a special “Make the Switch” contest that everyone can be a part of – and maybe even win! While there are so many whole grains to choose from (oats! brown rice! corn! quinoa!), I have a personal aﬃnity for tasty and easy-to-prepare bulgur wheat. (But don’t let my love sway you in any direction as you sample some of the fabulous recipes from our contest.)
My love of bulgur undoubtedly stems from my constant hankering for food from the Middle East, where this whole grain is so common. I can’t deny that my devotion to bulgur also stems from a bit of laziness – it’s one of the quickest and simplest whole grains to prepare at home.
Bulgur wheat is one of the world’s original fast foods, in fact. It consists of hulled wheat kernels (also called groats) from any of several wheat varieties (most commonly durum wheat). Because the kernels retain their intact germ, bran, and endosperm, they are whole grains. To prepare bulgur for packaging – and to make it so easy to ﬁx at home – the groats are parboiled before being dried, cracked, and sorted by size. This means that the cooking time for bulgur is minimal, and, in fact, it can even be prepared without technically cooking – by simply pouring boiling water over the grains and soaking them 10-15 minutes until tender.
Before we discuss the many delicious ways to enjoy bulgur at home, let’s learn a few fun facts about this whole grain.
- Bulgur can be purchased in diﬀerent levels of coarseness, ranging from 1 (ﬁnest) to 4 (coarsest). Finer bulgur is quicker to soak/cook.
- Bulgur is not the same as cracked wheat. Cracked wheat has not been parboiled – it’s just raw groats, cut in chunks – so it takes much longer to cook.
- Bulgur is a particularly nutritious whole grain. One cup of cooked bulgur contains 151 calories, 0g fat, more ﬁber (8 grams/cup) and protein (6g/cup) than reﬁned grains, and several micronutrients including iron, manganese, and magnesium.
- Bulgur is common in European, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North Indian cooking, where it goes by several names unique to each area, including dalia (in India), pourgoúri (in Greece), and jarish (in Saudi Arabia).
- References to bulgur in the Bible and other ancient records indicate that this whole grain has been popular for millennia, including among Babylonians, Egyptians, and Romans.
- The process for preparing bulgur (parboiling, drying, cracking, sieving for coarseness, storing, and preparing for ﬁnal consumption) hasn’t changed for thousands of years!
- The highest quality bulgur (regardless of level of coarseness) has grain particles of roughly the same size, so that they cook evenly and thoroughly at the same rate.
Now let’s take a look at just a few of the ways you can prepare this versatile whole grain in your home kitchen!