I first came across bulgur several years ago when I had tabbouleh, an amazing Middle Eastern salad that I came to learn has been around for thousands of years.
This salad contains onions, tomatoes, herbs, and bulgur wheat. The salad tasted amazing. I had to ask what was in it, and that is how my relationship with bulgur begun.
What is bulgar?
Bulgur is a popular ingredient especially in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. It is made from cracked whole-grain kernels of wheat. Manufacturers parboil and dry the wheat before packaging.
Compared to other whole wheat products, bulgur is the easiest and fastest to cook. It is also more affordable compared to the others including freekeh and wheat berries.
A lot of people describe the flavor of bulgur as nutty and mild. When cooked, bulgur has a chewy texture similar to that of other whole grains. It also has a scent similar to that of popcorn when it is cooked.
Bulgur tastes amazing, however, you may need to substitute bulgur with something else for various reasons. Maybe you ran out of it, or you just want to try something new.
Whatever the reason, you are in luck because there are a few ingredients you can use as alternatives. Quinoa, cracked wheat, and couscous are suitable substitutes for bulgur.
Where to buy bulgur
Bulgur is a very common ingredient. There are different varieties in the market and they range from fine to coarse texture.
You can easily purchase bulgur in any well-stocked grocery store. You can get it in the baking or whole grains section. If it’s not there, check the bulk foods section. Some stores place bulgur at the cereal aisle next to breakfast grains and oatmeal.
I recommend buying organic bulgur in bulk at Whole Foods Market. This way you get value for your money.
You can also buy bulgur online. I have personally come across several vendors who sell it.
How to cook bulgur
Considering that bulgur is partially cooked, it takes a very short time to prepare. It is also very easy to prepare. Most varieties of bulgur cook in less than 15 minutes. However, it is important to note that different varieties require different cooking times. Therefore, it is important that you check the package for directions.
To cook bulgur, simply place two cups of liquid in a pot and add one cup of bulgur. Once the bulgur comes to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot, and let it simmer for approximately 12 minutes or until the bulgur becomes tender. Once tender, drain any excess liquid and use a fork to fluff the bulgur before serving.
Bulgur is mostly used as an ingredient in tabbouleh salad. However, you can use it the same way you use couscous, quinoa, barley, or rice. Next time you make a vegetable curry or vegetable stir-fry try serving it with bulgur instead of rice.
You can also use bulgur as a binding ingredient in meat patties, meatballs, and vegetable patties.
I have across a few recipes that do not require you to cook bulgur. All you need to do is soak the bulgur in hot water for a few minutes. There is this particular recipe that required me to place hot water in a bowl, pour in bulgur, and let it sit for an hour. Once the bulgur has soaked for an hour, you drain the water and use the bulgur as directed.
We all have those moments when we run out of a certain ingredient just when we want to use it in a recipe. So what happens when you have no bulgur in the house but want to make a dish that requires you to use bulgur?
There are a few ingredients that you can use as a substitute for bulgur. Here are some of the suitable substitutes for bulgur.
Quinoa is a good substitute for bulgur. It has a texture that is similar to that of bulgur. Quinoa makes for a great substitute, especially when making tabbouleh, that amazing Middle Eastern salad we talked about at the beginning.
Both quinoa and bulgur cook in a very short time. Therefore, there is no need to adjust your cooking time when using it instead of bulgur.
Keep in mind that quinoa has a milder flavor compared to bulgur. It has a flavor that is very similar to that of rice. In case you want a stronger flavor, consider using any of the other substitutes.
Cracked wheat is a good bulgur substitute because the two have so many similarities. The two are basically the same product. The only major difference is that bulgur is parboiled during processing and cracked wheat isn’t.
Bulgur expands when cooked, and so does cracked wheat. Just like bulgur, cracked wheat adds fiber and bulk to any dish that it is added to.
I love using cracked wheat as a bulgur substitute because it does not alter the flavor of your dish. The taste of your dish will remain the same.
When using cracked wheat as a bulgur substitute, you have to increase the cooking time because it takes longer to cook. If you only cook it for 15 minutes you will end up with raw cracked wheat.
Couscous is another suitable substitute for bulgur. Couscous is crushed durum wheat semolina. Manufacturers use this wheat to form small spheres or granules. Couscous is a good substitute for various reasons. First, it is readily available. You can buy it at any store near you.
Secondly, it has a neutral taste. This makes it an excellent addition to dishes especially when you do not intend to alter the flavor. Couscous also has a nutty flavor that is very similar to that of bulgur.
You can substitute bulgur with couscous in any recipe that requires you to use bulgur including meats and vegetables. I suggest that you use it in salads for the best results.
There are different varieties of couscous in the market. In my opinion, whole wheat couscous works best as a bulgur substitute. However, if you have any other varieties, they will work just fine.
How to store bulgur
We all know that proper storage is essential for any ingredient to last for as long as it should. Bulgur should be stored the same way you store any other whole grain. Place uncooked bulgur in an airtight container and store it at room temperature. Bulgur should be stored far away from moisture, sources of heat, and light.
I suggest storing the airtight container in your pantry or kitchen cabinet. If you choose to store it in your kitchen cabinet, use one that is far away from your stovetop and oven. When stored properly bulgur can last for approximately one year.
Cooked bulgur should be stored inside the refrigerator. Simply place the cooked bulgur in an airtight container, close the lid tightly and place it inside your refrigerator. When refrigerated, cooked bulgur stays fresh for 3 to 4 days.
If you want cooked bulgur to last for much longer, you should freeze it. When frozen properly, bulgur can last for 10-12 months.
The difference between bulgur and cracked wheat
A lot of people think that bulgur and cracked wheat are the same product. However, they are not. Although bulgur and cracked wheat both wheat products, cracked wheat is not partially cooked before it is packaged.
Compared to cracked wheat, bulgur has a longer shelf life mostly because it is parboiled. Bulgur also takes a shorter time to cook compared to cracked wheat.
Despite these differences, you can substitute one for the other. All you need to do is adjust the cooking times.
Nutritional benefits of bulgur
Bulgur contains omega 3, fatty acids, protein, and dietary fiber, all of which are essential nutrients. Bulgur is also cholesterol-free and contains a significant amount of manganese. Manganese plays a major role in reproduction, metabolism, and the immune system.
Bulgur has very low-fat content and high fiber content. Additionally, a serving of bulgur has very few calories.
Bulgur is a great addition to vegan and vegetarian dishes. However, it is not gluten-free and may not be convenient for those on a gluten-free diet.
I’m sure you have come across several recipes that call for bulgur. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Tabbouleh with avocado
- Strawberry bulgur bowl
- Vegan burgers
Bulgur is not only tasty, but it is also super healthy. Lately, I have been trying to incorporate it into my diet as much as possible.
Depending on the dish you are making, you can easily substitute bulgur with quinoa, cracked wheat, or couscous. Quinoa works perfectly in salads and cracked wheat works well in dishes that require cooking. If you want a substitute that will bring out a nutty flavor in your dish you should definitely use couscous.
Try using these substitutes and let me know whether you like the outcome.