Are you looking for an alternative to rice, pasta or bread? Then this bulgur pilaf is exactly what you need! Bulgur pilaf is a staple dish in the Middle East. Whether you prepare it as a side dish to grilled meat like kebab, with salad or yogurt, bulgur pilaf never fails to impress. Made of just a few staple ingredients, it’s extremely easy to prepare.
Let me show you how to make Middle Eastern bulgur pilaf with this step-by-step recipe. You’ll also get tips and insights on how to serve, store and complement your dish.
What is Bulgur Pilaf?
Bulgur pilaf, also known as bulgur pilau or bulgur rice, is a traditional Middle Eastern dish made with bulgur, cooked in a tomato gravy. It’s widely popular in countries like Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey.
As its name suggests, the main ingredient in bulgur pilaf is bulgur. Bulgur is made from cracked whole wheat that has been parboiled and dried. The process of parboiling the wheat before cracking it helps retain many of its nutrients. Bulgur is rich in essential nutrients, complex carbohydrates and fibers, while being low in fat. Bulgur is an easy-to-cook and very versatile ingredient with a slightly nutty flavor profile. It’s a staple ingredient in the Middle East and Turkey. Bulgur is roughly comparable to the North African couscous, though it’s not the same.
Bulgur pilaf is a very versatile dish. It’s most commonly served as a side dish to grilled meat like kebabs or roasted chicken. Besides, it also pairs well with grilled vegetables. Most people will pair it with a salad and plain yogurt or a garlicky yogurt-cucumber-sauce (tzatziki).
To make bulgur pilaf the Middle Eastern way, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Bulgur: As its name suggests, bulgur is the main ingredient for this pilaf. There are various types of bulgur available, all of which have a different purpose. For bulgur pilaf, be sure to purchase coarse bulgur or extra coarse bulgur. Don’t use fine or medium bulgur for this dish. Fine bulgur is what you need for tabbouleh salad, as it only requires soaking in hot water. Coarse bulgur has to be cooked.
- Tomatoes: Fresh tomatoes yield the best results for this dish. Use large ripe Roma tomatoes.
- Tomato paste: Tomato paste (tomato concentrate) enhances the color and the flavor of your bulgur pilaf. I recommend that you add it in addition to fresh tomatoes.
- Onion: Yellow onion is the base of your gravy in which the bulgur will cook. Don’t worry about the taste, as the onions will be cooked soft and won’t stand out in the final dish.
- Garlic: Fresh garlic clove, finely chopped or pressed. If you don’t have garlic cloves, you can use garlic paste instead.
- Seasonings: Coriander powder, salt and pepper are all you need. The coriander powder will give your dish a slight sweet-floral note. The amount of salt and pepper can be adjusted to your liking.
- Olive oil: You’ll need a bit of olive oil to fry the onion and garlic. Olive oil adds to the taste, so I recommend that you stick to olive oil (over other vegetable oil).
- Water: Water is added to the gravy. The water will be soaked up by the bulgur during the cooking process, resulting in larger grains.
Note: Quantities can be found in the recipe card at the end of this recipe and can be adjusted according to the amount of servings you’d like to make.
How to Make Bulgur Pilaf
Ready to make bulgur pilaf? Yallah, let’s get started!
Step 1: Wash the bulgur
The first step is to wash the bulgur. This is to ensure that it’s clean and any excess starch is removed. To wash the bulgur, place it in a large bowl or fine mesh strainer. Rinse it thoroughly under cold running water. Gently stir the bulgur while rinsing to help remove any impurities. Once rinsed, let the bulgur drain and set it aside. Unlike rice, bulgur doesn’t need to be soaked prior to cooking.
Step 2: Chop onion, tomato and garlic
Next, prepare the ingredients for the gravy. Grab an onion and tomato and finely dice them into small, uniform pieces. This will help distribute their flavors evenly throughout the dish. Crush or finely chop a garlic clove.
Step 3: Fry garlic and onion
Heat olive oil in a saucepan or casserole dish over medium heat. Once the oil is heated, add the crushed garlic and diced onion to the hot oil. Stir and fry them for about 2-3 minutes until the onions become translucent and aromatic.
Step 4: Add tomatoes
Add the finely chopped tomatoes to the saucepan. Continue frying and stirring for another 3-4 minutes until the tomatoes have softened and released their juices. This will help develop a delicious tomato base for the bulgur pilaf.
Step 5: Add tomato paste and seasonings
To intensify the flavor of your sauce and ultimately your finished dish, add tomato paste, coriander powder, salt and pepper to the saucepan. Stir well to thoroughly combine the ingredients and coat the vegetables with the seasonings. Continue frying for an additional minute to allow the flavors to meld together, resulting in a fragrant and well-seasoned base.
Step 6: Add the bulgur
Once you have a fragrant tomato base, it’s time to incorporate the bulgur. Transfer the washed and drained bulgur into the saucepan. Stir well to ensure it’s well combined with the tomato base. Coat the bulgur grains evenly with the flavorful tomato mixture ensures that all grains absorb the flavors of the dish equally. Fry for another 30 seconds while stirring the bulgur. As mentioned above, the bulgur only needs to be washed (and drained) before you cook it. You don’t need to soak or cook it. It will be cooked all the way through in the tomato gravy.
Step 7: Add water
Pour water into the saucepan, ideally using hot water for faster cooking. Stir the mixture once more to distribute the liquid evenly. Increase the heat to high and bring the contents of the saucepan to a boil.
Step 8: Simmer
Once the water starts to boil, reduce to low heat. Cover your saucepan and simmer for 10-12 minutes, allowing the bulgur to cook slowly and absorb the flavors. Your bulgur pilaf is ready when the bulgur is tender and all the water absorbed.
How to Serve Bulgur Pilaf
Bulgur pilaf is traditionally served as a side dish. It makes a wonderful alternative to rice, pasta or bread.
In the Middle East, you’ll commonly find bulgur pilaf alongside grilled meat, such as kebab, kofta, grilled or roasted chicken. It makes a wonderful addition to a BBQ. It’s always served with salad. Depending on the occasion, this can be a simple chopped salad, raw onions, tabbouleh, fattoush or any other Middle Eastern salad.
Since bulgur pilaf is a very nutritious and filling dish, it also makes a great mid-week meal when you don’t have much time. Serve it with plain yogurt or a yogurt sauce (tzatziki) and a simple chopped salad to create a wonderful light meal for your family.
Make Ahead & Storage
Same as rice, bulgur pilaf tastes best warm, right after cooking. If you have a small family, preparing a large batch for 2 days can be a real timesaver. If you have leftovers, leave to cool in the saucepan after cooking (with the lid closed). Once cooled completely, transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. Warm up in the microwave or on the stovetop (add a little bit of oil or water).
Other Arabic rice recipes that can be served as a side dish:
- Lebanese rice (white butter rice with vermicelli)
- Hashweh rice (rice with ground meat)
- Yellow rice (fragrant turmeric spiced rice)
- Rice with raisins and nuts
Any Questions or Feedback?
If you liked this recipe, I’d appreciate it if you could leave a star rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ below. In case you’ve any questions or feedback, please leave me a comment (down the page). I’m happy to help you make delicious Middle Eastern food at home.
Bulgur Pilaf (Lebanese)
- 175 g (1 cup) bulgur coarse
- 2 tomatoes medium
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 onion yellow, medium
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 250 ml (1 cup) water
- Wash the bulgur in a large bowl or fine mesh strainer. Leave it to drain. No soaking required.
- Finely dice the onion and tomato. Crush a garlic clove.
- Heat olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan or casserole dish. Once the oil is heated, add the garlic and onion and fry for 2-3 minutes until translucent.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and fry for another 3-4 minutes until the tomato has softened.
- Add the tomato paste and seasonings (coriander powder, salt and pepper) and stir well to combine. Fry for another minute to allow the flavors to enfold.
- Add the bulgur (washed, raw) to the saucepan. Stir well to combine with the tomato base.
- Add water (preferably hot water) and stir again. Bring to a boil on high heat.
- Once the water starts to boil, reduce to low heat. Cover your saucepan and simmer for 10-12 minutes until the water has been absorbed and the bulgur is tender. Serve warm as a side dish, with salad, yogurt or a yogurt sauce.
- Be sure to use coarse bulgur. If you don’t have it available, you can use extra coarse bulgur (add slightly more water and increase the cooking time) or medium bulgur (needs slightly less water and less cooking time). Regular coarse bulgur yields the best result. Avoid fine bulgur (the one you’d use for tabbouleh).
- Some recipe variations include bell pepper which add to the taste of the dish. If using bell pepper, finely dice and add it together with the tomatoes. Use ½ bell pepper (any color) for the default amount (4 servings).
- Same as with rice, ideally allow 5-10 minutes rest time after cooking (lid on) to allow the bulgur to absorb any remaining flavors. Fluff it up in the saucepan before serving.
Nutrition information is only a rough estimate and may vary depending on factors such as the cooking method, exact weight, type, and brand of ingredients used.