Daniel and I spent our honeymoon in Istanbul, a magical city with heavenly food. One of the most distinct and memorable dishes was one we sampled at the house of a friend of a friend. Engin Akin, an expert on Ottoman palace cuisine and a crackerjack cook, invited us over for a historic meal inspired by what the sultans ate during Ottoman times.
I was expecting to be awed by the food, but I did not expect my favorite dish to be a humble bulgur pilaf. It looked plain and brown, but the flavors exploded on my tongue—hints of cinnamon, allspice, and plenty of butter. It was so good that I immediately understood why a sultan who could command dishes from anywhere in his far-flung empire would insist on bulgur.
This pilaf is inspired by those fragrant yet homey flavors. However, instead of cooking the bulgur traditionally with sautéed onions and stock, I cook it in plenty of water, like pasta, which lets me simmer it until the grains are just tender, and I don’t have to worry about getting the amount of liquid perfect.
After cooking, I added the spices and butter and some tender shoots of Swiss chard to give the dish some color and a vegetable quotient, along with dried apricots for sweetness and pistachios for crunch. Overall it’s a heartier, more filling, and less nuanced dish than the one Ms. Akin served me, but no less compelling for its lack of authenticity.
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water
1 cup medium- or coarse-ground bulgur
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup dried apricots, cut into
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup coarsely chopped raw pistachios
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Freshly squeezed lemon juice or pomegranate molasses, for drizzling company's coming
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the bulgur and cinnamon stick; cook for about 9 minutes. Stir in the apricots and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the bulgur is tender (this might vary depending on how coarse the bulgur is). Drain well and discard the cinnamon stick.
2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the pistachios, cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Return it to medium heat and add the oil, garlic, and shallot. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chard, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and the pepper. Cook, tossing, until the chard is wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in the bulgur mixture and pistachios. Toss over the heat for 1 minute, until warmed through. Transfer to serving plates and drizzle with lemon juice or pomegranate molasses.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Favorite Recipes from Melissa Clark’s Kitchen by Melissa Clark (Black Dog & Leventhal; 2018)
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