Bulgar or bulgur known as πλιγούρι, (pligoúri), in Greek or πουργούρι, (pourgouri) in Cyprus and as burghul (برغل) in Arabic) is a cereal food made from several different wheat species, but most often from durum wheat.
Bulgar holds a place in recipes similar to rice or cous cous but with a higher nutritional value. Best known as an ingredient in tabouli salad, bulgur is also a tasty, low-fat ingredient (not to mention cheap and healthy), in pilaf soup, bakery goods, stuffing or casseroles. It is an ideal food in a vegetarian diet because of its nutritional value and versatility. It is excellent as a meat extender or meat substitute in vegetarian dishes, and is a component of many varieties of meatless burgers found on supermarket shelves everywhere.
Making wheat into bulgar is an ancient process that originated in the Mediterranean and has been an integral part of Greek or Middle Eastern cuisine for thousands of years. Biblical references indicate it was prepared by ancient Babylonians, Hittites and Hebrew populations some 4, 000 years ago, and Arab, Israeli, Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations record eating dried cooked wheat as early as 1, 000 B.C.
Often confused with cracked wheat, bulgar differs in that it has been pre-cooked by par-boiling. This process makes bulgur easy to cook but also has removed certain nutrients from the less digestible outer layers into the centre of the grain, making them more easy to cook with.
When I first came to Greece and mentioned bulgur, I usually got some scornful looks from friends and relatives, maybe because it was some of the food they ate during the German occupation and ended being considered as food for the poor. However, after reluctantly trying it they were convinced that it was worth cooking with.
In Cyprus we used to eat bulgur pilaf regularly and I have already written about the traditional way my mother used to cook it.She would always make it when she had leftover meat, lamb, pork or chicken but a meatless pilaf is equally delicious served with Greek yoghurt.
Bulgar wheat can be coarsely ground, which is the type we use in the pilaf or finely ground, which is the one we use to make koupes, with meat or vegan, which are savory mezedes.
The pilaf is very easy to make. Grated onion is sauteed in olive oil and vermicelli pasta is added. Then the bulgar wheat and grated fresh tomatoes, salt pepper and pieces of lefover pieces of meat are cooked together.
The recipe is included in my cookbook Mint, Cinnamon & Blossom Water, Flavours of Cyprus, Kopiaste as well as in volume 1 of my e-cookbook.
Kopiaste and Kali Orexi,