Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
mrbigjas

what is the deal with bulgur pilaf

Recommended Posts

over the last couple years i have tried to make pilaf lots of times, and it always always always turns into a gummy mass. i've read and followed tons of recipes, and it's always the same.

for instance, tonight i made the recipe out of 'the complete middle east cookbook,' by tess mallos, which i'll paraphrase:

an onion.

1/4 c. of fat

3 1/4 c. of stock

2 c. of coarse bulgur

sautee the onion, add the stock, boil, add the bulgur, boil, cover over low heat for 20 minutes, put a towel under the lid and leave off the heat for 15 more minutes.

this recipe is very similar to every other i've seen and used, and they're pretty consistent with the 1.5 or 2 to 1 ratio of stock or water to coarse bulgur. and it, like all the others, is a gummy pile of gumminess, and i just threw it away in a fit of rage.

here's something i'm thinking about: i make a lot of rice. nearly every rice recipe calls for a 2:1 ratio of water to rice. i have probably six kinds of rice in my cupboard and there isn't one of them that will absorb that much water without turning into a thick rice pudding. when you make risotto or paella, you use that much water, but you cook it uncovered and a lot of it evaporates. when i make regular asian-style rice, i use probably 1 1/4 c. of water to 1 c. of rice. i have making rice down to just the way i want it, by realizing that almost every recipe out there is just plain wrong.

so is the bulgur i buy different than it should be? it's a lebanese grocer, it's not like i'm not going to the source here. or are my suspicions correct that bulgur recipes are just as outdated or untested--or SOMETHING, but either way wrong--as rice recipes are?

what's the real deal? how do i do this so it doesn't suck? and in a larger sense, considering that bulgur and rice are staples for such a huge number of people, why are all the recipes still wrong?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Slightly less than 1 cup of liquid to 1 cup of bulgur. You're right,

the recipes are wrong.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not sure it's just the water ratio....we make coarse bulgur a couple times a week (it became our go-to grain years ago). With the bulgur we use, you could never get away with a 1:1 water/bulgur ratio, it would start burning in about 8 minutes.

my suggestion: leave the fat out until the bulgur is cooked. a quick breakfast bulgur for us goes like this, and it is perfect every time.

1 cup of coarse bulgur

1 3/4 cup boiling water

3 tbsp or more soy sauce or kecap manis

1-3 tbsp butter

+++

Combine bulgur, water, and 1 tbsp soy sauce. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, turn heat off and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir in remaining soy sauce, the butter, and tweak to taste. Garnish judiciously or don't with a bit of scallions, coriander, almonds, mint, peanuts, bean sprouts, etc.

Good luck!


Edited by markemorse (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think it's the water:bulgur ratio either. I think it's time. 35 minutes is way too long. We're down around 15-20 minutes, max, and that's in a bowl with boiling water poured over it and covered with a plate.

Do you rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking? We do that, but that's because we're usually making a salad instead of pilaf. At any rate, it's never gummy.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mrbj: I am revising my original response to say I am not sure I understand why you're having problems. However, there are probably a number of factors involved, including the type of grain, the pot, heat, etc. Timing of the recipe is fine, though.

The only thing I can say about outdated recipes is that I recall cracked wheat being sold in health food stores and food co-ops as if it were bulgur; Whole Foods may still do this. Now I can use fine Middle-Eastern bulghur for cooking a breakfast-cereal like mush to incorporate into loaves of bread, but a large, coarser grain for pilafs I turn to for veganish reasons: to have protein and filling grains on the side when I'm eating something like an eggplant stew.

You say you're using coarse bulgur, but given the content of the link above, might the problem be that you're cooking bulgur (as instructed), instead of cracked wheat?

I don't know. I just consulted one of Paula Wolfert's books (Eastern Med) and found several recipes I've made. Some call for coarse bulgur and others, bulgur or cracked wheat. (More later.)

Here's one from Madhur Jaffrey recipe, more or less, if not attractively presented. You do NOT need to soak the red lentils (masoor dal in original recipe by MJ). Less is more on the green herb.

1 cup bulgur. 1/2 cup lentils. 1 1/2 cups water. (As you can see, it's not a 2:1 ratio.)

After cooking the pilaf on low heat (on my gas stove, I sometimes pile one burner on top of another when cooking pilafs or rice), it should be done in 35 minutes if still a bit wet. Not soggy, though. In fact, there is danger of sticking and I think that I sometimes cheat and go w a 2:1 ratio since the pulses soak up a tremendous amount of water. Small, narrow pot w heavy bottom and tight lid helps.

Take off heat, working swiftly, put a kitchen towel over the pot and clamp lid firmly down over taut cloth to cover. Let sit for 20 minutes to give the grains and lentils enough time to absorb the water fully. Fluff and season.

N.B. Paula Wolfert calls for different cooking times which can be as little as 20 minutes, however, these tend to be for pilafs packed w other ingredients such as greens, pastes.... One w onions and spinach has a 1:1 ratio of grains and cooking liquid. I say, look for other recipes!!!!


Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

thanks all, this is all very interesting. i'll attempt again, till i get this working. of course i'm picturing my mother in law's oldschool 1950s style 'pilaf' which involves boullion cubes and cooks in the oven.

pontormo, your note about not soaking the chana dal makes me wonder even more about this whole thing. this may be a larger issue than bulgur.

i mean, people always recommend soaking beans overnight, and then cooking them for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. i put beans in the pan dry, cook them for that long, and they're done. what's up with the soaking?

recipes involving lentils often call for cooking them for 45 minutes or so, or even soaking them ahead of time. lentils cook to mush in 45 minutes, unless they're lentils du puy, in which case they're still pretty well cooked in that amount of time.

when i first started buying and cooking farro, recipes recommend soaking and then cooking for 45 minutes or an hour. again, the farro i buy cooks in less than that amount of time dry.

is everything different now than it was when, like, every recipe was written?

i've realized that this is probably a different thread. or not, whichever.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My understanding is that bulgur is toasted cracked wheat. My husband uses cracked wheat once in a while when baking bread, soaking it first. I don't know how the toasting affects cooking time, but it definitely gives it a yummy flavor. Bulgur is usually specified for tabbouli, rarely cracked wheat. I make tabbouli by pouring the hot water over the bulgur, and that's a different process than just cooking bulgur. I guess cracked wheat can vary in size, just like steel cut oats can vary. We have bought our bulgur in bulk from the same source for years, but if the crack was larger I guess the cooking time would need adjustment and so would the ratio of grain to water. I cook my basmati rice the same way as below, with a 2/1 ratio.

I use a small saucepan w/ relatively high sides. Melt a small pat of butter (olive oil would work, I'm sure) and sautee 1 cup bulgur with a little salt over a moderate flame. Stir for a few minutes til it starts to smell toasty. Add 2 cups water, raise the heat til it comes to a good simmer, cover, then lower the heat to very low or so the bulgur is simmering gently. Cook 12-15 minutes without stirring or til all water is absorbed and the bottom is just starting to stick. Let sit another few minutes covered (left-over steam will unstick the bulgur if you have cooked it a bit too long) then fluff with a fork.

I don't see why the addition of onion, sauteed a few minutes before adding the bulgur wouldn't be nice. If you were adding lentils to the same pot I guess that would change everything a lot. I would be inclined to cook my lentils separately.

My husband recently cooked bulgur and I noticed he had turned the flame down so low that it wasn't even simmering. He was expecting it to take 20 minutes. His bulgur does frequently come out wet or gummy and now I know why.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bulgur isn't just "cracked wheat", it has been parboiled then dried (not toasted as such as dried in a kiln). The par-cooking most like bursts the starch granules and produces are gel, which gets re-hydrated on final cooking. Boiling cracked wheat will liberate a whole bunch of free starch and will produce wallpaper paste.

When I have cooked with bulgur it is more a process of absorbtion then boiling. For fine grades I just pour over hot liquid, for very coarse grades I cook until the grains are tender, but firm (10 minutes max.) then put on the lid and leave it for 15-20 minutes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I use a small saucepan w/ relatively high sides. Melt a small pat of butter (olive oil would work, I'm sure) and sautee 1 cup bulgur with a little salt over a moderate flame. Stir for a few minutes til it starts to smell toasty. Add 2 cups water, raise the heat til it comes to a good simmer, cover, then lower the heat to very low or so the bulgur is simmering gently. Cook 12-15 minutes without stirring or til all water is absorbed and the bottom is just starting to stick. Let sit another few minutes covered (left-over steam will unstick the bulgur if you have cooked it a bit too long) then fluff with a fork.

see, this is exactly the type of recipe that has turned into glue for me for years. if you add 2 cups of water to 1 cup of bulgur, bring to a simmer and cook it over very low heat for 12-15 minutes, there will be plenty of water left. it will still be bubbling up through the bulgur.

if you then continue to simmer it until the water is gone, you will have mush.

i have tried it, numerous times. it's what ended up in the trash last night and prompted this thread.

i mean, i don't mean to sound harsh to you, katie. it's not directed to you--it's just that that's the recipe that's never worked for me, whether for rice or bulgur.

edited to add: adam, that's the line of thinking i think i'm heading for here. when i make tabouleh, i soak bulgur in water for 10 minutes or so and drain it. no cooking. granted that's fine bulgur and not coarse, but still, coarse isn't that different.


Edited by mrbigjas (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
edited to add: adam, that's the line of thinking i think i'm heading for here.  when i make tabouleh, i soak bulgur in water for 10 minutes or so and drain it.  no cooking.  granted that's fine bulgur and not coarse, but still, coarse isn't that different.

This boiling-water trick is the technique I always use, for pilaf and everything--but if you use the right amount, you don't even have to drain it. My Moosewood Cooks at Home cookbook says, I think, 2 1/4 c. boiling water poured over 1 1/2 c. bulgur and set aside. I use the mid-weight grind--#2? Not the super-coarse or the super-fine (I have used this on super-fine, and it winds up v. soggy). It looks alarming at first, like the bulgur will not absorb it all, but I just fluff every so often while I'm prepping the rest of the stuff, and it's fine by the time I'm ready to combine everything, in 20 or 30 minutes.

If you want to use fat, then sautee your onions, etc. in that, and just combine it all the end. And I see no reason why you couldn't use boiling stock instead, for more flavor.


Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So, I'm in America visiting my parents, and I immediately buy some bulgur and try to whip up a panful for lunch, using the same exact technique I use successfully every week in Amsterdam, and...it came out completely gummy and useless. I couldn't serve it.

I'm going to try again today...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think it's the water to bulgur ratio. Bulgur pilaf is a staple here, with lots of different varieties, some with more some with less fat. But the water to bulgur ratio is 1:1 unless you are going for a really soft pilaf or a porridge type dish. I've used various grades of bulgur, from fine to very coarse (almost whole-grains) and the result is the same. Sometimes I use even a bit less water.


"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i would just like to say that i'm really enjoying these varying experiences and recipes--especially your recent problems, markemorse. it reassures me that i'm not crazy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...