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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bulgur Lentil Pilaf with Barberries, Pinenuts, and Saffron

Even though the holidays are a great time for indulgence, sometimes you just need something a little…lighter. This bulgur and ivory lentil pilaf is still hefty enough to take center stage, and studded with pine nuts, barberries, and saffron, it’s special enough to be the star of the show.

Ivory lentils are just black lentils with the peel removed, which means they're quick cooking, and I mean seriously quick - once the pot of lentils starts simmering, they are perfectly tender in 10 minutes, all while keeping their shape. With a mild but slightly nutty flavor, they’re a great source of protein and pair wonderfully with bulgur, a type of grain commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking, which is also quick-cooking.

And if you don’t want it to be vegetarian, it would be great with roasted chunks of lamb, beef, or chicken on top.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup ivory lentils
1 cup bulgur wheat
2 tablespoons barberries or Zante currants
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 cups water, warmed and with a big pinch of saffron
Pinch of truffle salt, optional
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Lemon dill blend or fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill, or chives
Urfa pepper, for serving

In a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet or other oven-safe pan, warm the oil over medium-high heat and add the onions. Stir in a pinch of salt and a bit of pepper, then cook the onions until the start to sizzle and release some liquid. Once they are beginning to soften, lower the heat and cook the onions, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until caramelized, at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook your lentils. Rinse the lentils in a fine-mesh strainer, then put in a small pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that accumulates.  Cover the pot and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, or until lentils are cooked but not mushy. Strain the lentils and set aside.

Next, cook the bulgur. Rinse the pot you used to cook your lentils, then take half of the caramelized onions and put them in the pot (it’s ok if the onions you take out aren’t quite caramelized – just take half and leave the rest in the cast iron pan to continue cooking). Add the bulgur, barberries or currants, ground cumin, salt and pepper to taste, and saffron-infused water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover and simmer over low heat for 12 minutes (do NOT be tempted to crack the lid open and check on the bulgur – checking it too often will make it gummy and gross – just let do its thing). After 12 minutes, check to see if the bulgur is cooked and the water absorbed – the bulgur will be soft but still have some texture. Add more water and cook a few minutes longer if necessary.

By now, your onions should be nicely caramelized. Remove them from the pan, then stir the lentils and bulgur together in the cast iron skillet. Top with the caramelized onions, a pinch of truffle salt, the pine nuts, and scatter the lemon and dill blend over top, if using. Put all this under a high broiler for 3 minutes, just to brown the pine nuts.

Serve in the skillet, showered with plenty of Urfa pepper flakes and fresh herbs, if using.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


Kara Elder grew up playing in the kitchen cupboards and reading cookbooks for fun while watching her mom cook tasty Mexican meals. After graduating with a degree in Russian, she found herself increasingly interested in reading food blogs and planning menus. Kara is a Bazaar Spices Team Member and works for Joan Nathan, a DC-based cookbook author and food writer. She also writes for the Jewish Food Experience

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