This recipe is as simple as it sounds: it's bulgur pilaf with crispy paprika-spiced chickpeas and fresh herbs. Doesn't that sound nice? I always think so. And then I make myself a bowlful, start eating, and realize it's not just nice... It's REALLY nice... It's actually absurdly delicious... And then I must have seconds, so I can be in that happy place just a little bit longer!
Sometimes all the right ingredients come together in the perfect way for the perfect meal.
I don't think there's one secret ingredient here. There's no "one thing" that takes this bulgur pilaf from ordinary to extraordinary. I think it's the combination of several easy pantry ingredients, all yummy without any fussing, in just the right balance with each other. The trickiest thing here is crisping the chickpeas, and really the secret to that is just thoroughly drying them with towels...
Let's talk about bulgur
Bulgur is parboiled wheat berries that have been cracked and re-dried into small pieces. It's a cereal product that's been around for thousands of years, but it still seems to be on the fringes of the 21st century food trend radars (especially when compared to the mass hysteria over grains like quinoa).
Even if you've never cooked with it, you've probably had it in tabbouleh. Bulgur has a wonderfully nutty taste, with a light and fluffy texture. When cooked with aromatics like lightly browned onion (as it is here), it picks up tons of savory depth. These flavors make it the perfect nutty-savory base for bright herbs and crispy spiced chickpeas, but it's the light and fluffy texture that will keep you coming back for seconds.
Those crispy chickpeas are what take this bulgur pilaf from the realm of "side dish" into main event. It's an easy process with huge payout, both in terms of taste and texture. Giving them a quick fry while the bulgur cooks creates an addictively crispy outer shell, while maintaining their toothsome, starchy centers. It's also an opportunity to add whatever spices you're craving.
As written, they are very simply spiced with cumin and smoked paprika. Feel free to play around with the flavors and tailor the blend to suit your mood. Or, choose one of your favorite pre-made spice blends! Curry powder, for example, would taste fantastic here (Sonoko curry powder is my personal favorite, and no, that's not an affiliate link. I'm just a sincere fan.)
Fresh Herbs: Why use one when you can use three?
When dill and mint come together in any dish, sparks fly and magic happens. I'm not sure exactly how to describe the combination, but if you know, you know. It's just delicious. Savory and bright. Fresh and just so alive and so addictive. And, of course, we can't forget the chives. I know we already have golden onions studding the bulgur pilaf, but that fresh and lightly grassy chive flavor just adds the perfect amount of layered complexity without over-shadowing the rest of the flavors. If you happen to only have one of the three herbs, that's okay. It will still be tasty. But if you're going to the store anyway, I highly recommend all three.
By the way, if you're looking for recipes for a brunch spread, this is a great option. Serve it with deviled eggs (or just boiled!), or with wedges of this herby fritatta or this roasted red pepper tortilla española!
Notes for Success:
For some recipes, you really want to toast your grains until deeply nutty brown. Don't agonize about that here. A slight toast deepens and enhances the already nutty character, but we're not looking for a dark Toasted flavor.
If you're looking for make-ahead options, your best bet is to just make the bulgur base in advance. That can be gently rewarmed to room temperature before folding in the herbs and lemon. While you can add the herbs ahead of time, they will start to wilt and lose their flavor and color, so for best effect toss them in just before bringing to the table.
The chickpeas can be made earlier on the same day, but they will lose their crisp fairly quickly. I wouldn't make them more than a few hours in advance. And, I'd keep them on a plate or tray to allow for gentle air circulation, rather than a bowl or closed container.
All that being said, leftovers of this bulgur pilaf are still completely delicious the next day, even with slightly wilted herbs and less-crispy chickpeas!
Bulgar Pilaf with Crispy Paprika-Spiced Chickpeas and Fresh Herbs
- 1 tablespoon butter or vegan butter
- 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1½ cups coarse bulgur, See Tips, below
- 15½ ounces can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry, See Tips, below
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ cup lightly packed fresh dill, chopped
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh chives
- ¼ cup lightly packed fresh mint, chopped or torn
- Dill, mint, and chives, to garnish
- Soft boiled egg
- Lemon wedges
- Yogurt or sour cream
- Step 1In a medium pot or large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has begun to soften and brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the bulgur and cook, stirring constantly, until toasted with a nutty aroma, roughly 1 minute. Stir in 2¼ cups water and ¾ teaspoon salt. Increase heat and bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until the bulgur is tender and has absorbed all the water, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes.
- Step 2While the bulgur cooks: Toss the chickpeas with the cornstarch in a large bowl. Transfer to a mesh strainer and tap/shake the strainer to remove any excess cornstarch. In a 10-inch skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high until shimmering. Add the chickpeas and cook, stirring, until golden brown and crisp, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cumin, paprika, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Step 3Fluff the bulgur with a fork or rice paddle. Fold in the lemon juice, dill, chives, and mint. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
- To ServeTop with the crispy chickpeas and more chopped herbs. Serve with boiled eggs, a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, and lemon wedges.