Bulgur pilav is a hearty and healthy vegan bulgur dish, a Turkish bulgur pilaf that’s easy, healthy and delicious. Also known as bulgur pilavi, this is a common dish across the Middle East and it’s so packed with flavor.
What is bulgur pilav?
It’s the Turkish name for a bulgur pilaf, a very commonly consumed dish with coarse bulgur cooked in a tomato sauce. Also known as bulgur pilavi, or bulgar pilaf.
We have a version in the Middle East, a Lebanese bulgur recipe known as “burghul” or “burghul wa banadora”. That literally translates to tomato bulgur.
This pilaf can be eaten as a main dish, with a scoop of yogurt on the side, or as a side dish. It’s often served as the accompaniment to a platter of mixed grills.
What is bulgur?
It’s a cracked cereal wheat, a whole grain that’s really versatile and easy to cook. The reason it’s easy to cook is because it’s parboiled before being packaged and sold.
That’s also the reason why it differs from cracked wheat- don’t treat them like they are the same thing! Cracked wheat is raw wheat berries broken into pieces, not par boiled like bulgur, so it takes longer to cook and can behave differently in recipes.
This healthy whole grain is nutty and chewy, and has such great innate flavor.
What’s the difference between fine and coarse bulgur?
Bulgur can be ground into basically four different textures. Fine, medium, coarse, and very coarse.
Fine bulgur would be the type you use in tabbouleh and kibbe, where you don’t even need to precook it, just soak and it’s ready to go.
Medium bulgur would be used in veggie burgers, porridge, stuffing vegetables etc.
Coarse bulgur is the bulgur of choice for this recipe. It holds it shape really well and has more texture to it, making it perfect to make a bulgur pilaf with. You can also use very coarse, but I don’t find it as commonly.
Is bulgur healthy?
It’s VERY healthy! A great alternative to usual white carbs, and even healthier than brown rice.
It isn’t a refined grain and it’s minimally processed. Bulgur is a a great source of iron and full of fiber, so it keeps you full for a really long time.
Why should I make this tomato bulgar pilaf?
It’s full of flavor. It’s truly delicious! The bulgur itself has an almost a smoky flavor that’s enhanced by the tomato paste and diced tomatoes. It barely needs any seasoning to taste fabulous.
Since bulgur is a parboiled whole grain, perfect for when you don’t have much time. It cooks quickly and easily. It’s even more foolproof than rice in my opinion.
Bulgur pilavi is an incredibly easy meal to make. Testing this recipe was my first time making a bulgur pilaf and it came out perfectly from the first try. I’m sure that’ll happen when you try this to!
I use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, which means this is a vegan bulgur pilaf. Even if you aren’t vegan or vegetarian, this is a great way to take a break from meat for a day.
Bulgur is extremely healthy, with barely any fat, lots of fiber and whole grains.
Ingredients you need for this:
Olive oil: to saute the vegetables in
Onions and garlic cloves: Finely diced so they blend in nicely with the burgul.
Green bell pepper: optional, but really adds a lot of flavor
Tomato Paste: I use quite a bit to get a really deep tomato flavor.
Diced tomato cans: I find this MUCH easier than par boiling or dicing tomatoes, just make sure you drain the cans before adding so as not to mess with the liquid proportions.
Bulgur: I used coarse bulgur. Coarse bulgur is preferred in this pilaf, since the fine bulgur will be a totally different texture.
Water and vegetable stock cubes: You can dissolve the vegetable stock in the warm water, or add them separately to the pot. You can also use chicken stock if you prefer!
Butter: This is completely optional, but I like the richness it gives by coating the bulgur as it cooks. If you’d rather omit this, and keep the recipe vegan, that’s totally fine!
Salt, pepper, cumin powder and all spice or seven spices: Just a hint of each for a little seasoning, this dish doesn’t need much help. Cumin powder is actually great for helping the body digest the complex grains in this, plus a big flavor booster.
How to make bulgur pilavi:
- Start off by heating the olive oil and adding the onion. Cook for a few minutes until softened then add the garlic and green pepper.
- Add the tomato paste and saute briefly, then add the drained diced tomatoes and stir to combine. Add the rinsed bulgur, the butter and all the spices.
- Let the whole mixture come to a simmer and simmer uncovered for 5-7 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Cover tightly with a lid, reduce the heat slightly and cook for a further 10 minutes.
- Let the pilaf stand off the heat covered for another 5-10 minutes, then remove the heat and fluff lightly with a fork. Enjoy!
What to serve bulgar pilav with:
I enjoy this with a big scoop of plain yogurt as a great light lunch. Even better, have it with this cucumber mint yogurt. You can also serve with a green salad.
Alternately, and more traditionally, this is served a a side dish to chicken, beef or lamb grills. This would be amazing with these Arabic Grills, with Kafta, or as a healthy way to enjoy this Chicken Shawarma without bread.
Storing leftover bulgur pilav:
Leftover bulgur can be stored tightly covered in the fridge for 4-5 days, and reheated in the microwave, on low heat on a stovetop, or enjoyed cold.
Place in an airtight container until it has reached room temperature, then freeze for up to two months.
Pretty much any supermarket would carry this, but if you can’t find it in your local supermarket you can order it online or go to a Middle Eastern shop.
I recommend coarse bulgur so the cooking times match up with the recipe, and since it has a wonderful chewy texture. If using fine bulgur, shorten cooking time by 3-4 minutes
No, since it was parboiled you can just use it directly in the recipe.
Expert tips and tricks for success:
- Try adding a can of drained chickpeas at the same time that you add the bulgur. This will give you a great source of vegetarian protein. A lot of recipes use chickpeas, but I left them out because my kids aren’t the biggest fans.
- Make sure you add the cumin! It tastes great and aids digestion of the fiber rich bulgur.
- Keep an eye on the pot, if it seems to be drying out too quickly, add another splash of water or stock (about 1/4 cup)
- Let the bulgur pilav stand after cooking covered for 5-10 minutes then fluff with a fork, so it really steams up and absorbs all the liquid.
Related Middle Eastern Recipes:
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- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 small onions, finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 4 tablespoon tomato paste 60g
- 2 cans diced tomatoes, drained of their juice 15 oz or 400 g each
- 2 cups coarse bulgur
- 3 cups water
- 1 vegetable stock cube (or chicken stock cube)
- 1 heaped tbsp butter (or olive oil for vegan)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice or seven spices
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and sauté for a few minutes until softened. Add the minced garlic and diced bell pepper and cook another minute, stirring.
- Add the tomato paste and saute for a minute, then add the diced tomatoes, and stir to combine. Add the bulgur and stir until well coated with tomatoes.
- Add the water and vegetable stock cube, then the butter and salt, pepper, cumin and seven spices.
- Stir until well combined, and bring to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 5-7 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed, then cover, reduce heat to low and cook for a further 10 minutes.