Let’s talk about bulgur. If you’re a fan of Middle Eastern cuisine, you may know this whole grain as the star of tabbouleh (or tabbouli) and kibbeh (or kibbe). But you’d be selling yourself short if you thought that bulgur can only be used in dishes that have about a hundred different spellings. Bulgur can serve as a substitute for rice or couscous any day of the week, and can be cooked into pilafs, soups, breads, and delicious casseroles (see recipe below).
I’ll bet that you’re next question is something along the lines of: but why buy a food that rhymes with “vulgar” when I can use my tried and true brown rice? Consider how an old issue of Cooking Light answered that question. Bulgur has less calories than brown rice (151 calories for one cup cooked), about a quarter of the fat, and knocks brown rice outta the park when it comes to fiber and folate (8.2 grams and 32.8 micrograms, respectively). And just to remind you why these two features are so important: fiber keeps your colon happy, your cholesterol down, and can help with weight loss. Folate supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia, and may even help prevent osteoporosis and dementia. So yeah. There are a couple reasons to eat bulgur.
You may be wondering how bulgur stacks up against quinoa, the miracle grain. In a word, quinoa is more nutrient-dense then bulgur, but bulgur has about half the calories per cooked cup. So basically, you can eat twice as much bulgur as quinoa and get the same calorie and nutrient-intake, plus you’ll get double the fiber. However, for those with sensitivity to gluten, please note that quinoa is gluten-free while bulgur is not.
And now a quick word about savoy cabbage. I chose savoy cabbage for this recipe because kale (which the original NY Times recipe calls for) is absolutely unavailable on the island of Corsica. We’ve got gorgeous chard and scrumptious other leafy greens, but for some reason kale has not caught on. But never fear! Savoy cabbage is a totally adequate substitute, and perhaps a welcomed change from the kale-mania sweeping (some parts of) the U.S.
Savoy is one of a handful of cabbage varieties and seems to be the preferred breed among French and Italian chefs. Savoy cabbage was engineered sometime in the 16th century and, like its red, green, and white cousins, it’s a great source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and fiber.
Read on to see what happens when we combine these two amazingly healthy (and tasty) foods!
bulgur & savoy cabbage casserole
adapted from The New York Times
for the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes
salt & pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon paprika
for the gratin:
1 head savoy cabbage, washed & stemmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup bulgur
1 tablespoon dill
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup thick plain low-fat yogurt
salt, pepper & paprika to taste
Because this recipe has a number of different steps, I chose to make the tomato sauce one day in advance and store it in the fridge until I was ready to put the whole casserole together. That said, if you want to do it all in one go, you totally can. Just make sure you have some good music to listen to as you cook.
First, mince the garlic and chop the onion.
Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan and add the onion. Saute, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes, then add the garlic. Cook just for a minute, until your kitchen smells amazing. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar, cinnamon, and paprika. Bring the tomato mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer, partly covered (stirring often) for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes have cooked down and the sauce is thick and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
To cook the bulgur, bring two cups of water to boil and add bulgur. Bring to a boil once again, then reduce heat and let simmer until all water is absorbed. Bulgur cooks fast, around 10 minutes, so be attentive. Remove from heat, fluff with a couple stirs of your spoon, and let stand for at least 10 minutes.
Now let’s attack that savoy cabbage. Make sure you wash the cabbage very well, especially if it’s organic. I found more than one snail tucked within the leaves of mine. Remove stems. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add cabbage. After four minutes, drain and rinse with cold water to blanch. Chop finely (I like to roll up the leaves and slice).
Mince another couple cloves of garlic and you’re ready to throw together the gratin! Heat olive oil in a large skillet and saute garlic for just a minute.
Add cabbage and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Finally, add bulgur and dill, and stir to combine. Remove from heat.
Time to assemble. Lightly oil a 3-quart casserole dish. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom. Spoon in bulgur and cabbage mixture. Sprinkle two tablespoons of Parmesan. Spoon the remaining tomato sauce on top and spread evenly. Hang in there, we’re almost done!
In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, yogurt, and two tablespoons of Parmesan. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Pour this mixture on top of the casserole and spread evenly. Finally, sprinkle with remaining cheese. Give yourself a pat on the back . This baby’s ready for the oven.
Bake in the oven at 350 F for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the yogurt topping begins to turn golden. Let cool for ten minutes before serving.
Okay, so I’m crazy about this casserole. When I eat it, I am telling my body that I love it and want it to be healthy. I am telling my taste buds to try to keep up with all the fantastic flavors and textures packed into this dish. I am telling the rainy weather to do its worse because my lunch has left me nourished and comforted, and no amount of cloud cover can take that away.
Pair with a green salad to balance out the heartiness of the casserole. And do not feel guilty when you go back for seconds.