How do you turn a simple, one-pot bulgur with vegetables dish into a unique Middle Eastern flavor extravaganza? Baharat spice blend. That’s how.
Baharat – my middle eastern spice blend
In Arabic, ‘baharat’ means spices and that’s what we’ll be aiming for here. Just like my idea of bulgur with vegetables and other recipes I create, my spice blend is an amalgam of ideas that came together. When I think about it, it's always attributed to a few factor.
We’re all unique
Time for a disclaimer – every cuisine, every country, every region, village, household has their own take on their own spice blends. Whereas something with the same name such as Berbere, might contain very specific spices that we blend together and call Berbere, someone else might shout out – ‘that’s not Berbere’. Let’s take a minute and put everything into context.
Back when global access was reserved for future speak, ingredients were local. We ate what we grew or what we bought locally. As time marched on, local cuisines were influenced by diasporas. You need look no further than the cooking pot to recognize the influence and evolutions of combinations of ingredients and flavors and the development of new dishes and even cuisines (TexMex comes to mind for me). Fusion through necessity if you will.
Time affords us the opportunity for our palates to evolve. Foods preciously greeted with ‘yuck’ when placed on our plates, can even wind up on our favorites list. We might learn a new preparation trick that we find far more palatable or we just ‘grow up’.
Too much of a good thing
When it comes to spices in particular, I’ve learned that yes, you can have too much of a good thing. It’s really easy to overuse a spice (salt) and seriously ruin a dish. I always use the approach of adding a bit, mixing well, allowing the flavors to develop, tasting and adjusting. Remember, you can always adjust spices and salt forward, but going backwards is tricky to impossible.
My final point about flavors and spices is that, like any good performer, we need to consider our audience. With only two chili-loving adults in our household, I am always mindful that when I am preparing food for other folks, they may not share our love of spicy.
This is precisely why my version of Baharat, is void of chili. I went for an entirely different version because I wanted to bring out the sweetness of the cloves, allspice and nutmeg while leaving a mellow heat up to the black and white peppercorns.
Absent my go-too hot chili, I remained a bit skeptical about my Middle Eastern spice blend. Turned out, I needn’t worry – it did exactly what I expected. A really unique and pleasant flavor that brought out the sweetness of just 2 cups of diced tomatoes, carrots, zucchini squash and red pepper.
Bulgur with vegetables
Built on a basic foundation of onions and garlic with all the goodness of those veggies, this compete meal, needed a grain boost to tie it all up. I used bulgur, because hey, we’re in the Middle East with this one and it’s a staple.
What is bulgur?
Originating in Turkey, bulgur is a mainstay of Middle Eastern cuisine. Make no mistake, bulgur is wheat and what you’ll find in most markets is made from durum wheat that is parboiled and dried. That processing, if you will, is what makes it quick to cook.
Although I remain quite fond of quinoa, rely on it a lot and revere in its versatility and natural gluten-free characteristics, yes, we can sometimes get too much of a good thing. For me, that’s where bulgur comes in. These days, I find myself using it frequently. Although you can easily substitute quinoa for bulgur in this recipe (using the same amounts), there are differences in the taste and textures. Bulgur is a bit chewier and, in my experience, it more readily absorbs flavors and colors.
And I’ll be honest, where I live, bulgur is abundant and inexpensive. It’s one reason why it’s my lunch stable along with some frozen vegetables and whatever sauce I might find in the fridge. I like the nutty flavor and find it a wonderful center of attraction Middle Eastern chickpea salad, but it’s equally great as far away as Mexican bulgur bowls.
And back to local
Other than the spice mix (which you will now have in the cupboard), this uncomplicated bulgur with vegetables stew is a reflection of the ingredients I considered ‘staple geniuses’. Onions, garlic, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini and red pepper are always available and inexpensive. Ok, we did have the great courgette shortage a few years ago, but in general, these ingredients are always in abundance, with at least one or two on special every week.
My local, maybe not your local
Having uprooted many of my cooking traditions with my 7,000 mile-move a decade ago, I can appreciate that all my talk of ‘local’ is simply relative. Can’t find bulgur or it’s silly expensive? You can use quinoa or even rice. Yellow squash will be just as tasty as zucchini and in a pinch, you can use a can of tomatoes to replace the fresh (although that may result in a bit more of an intense tomato flavor than the original). You can also use a mix of red, yellow or orange peppers. Anything goes.
In the 15 minutes that the bulgur with vegetables needed to finish, I decided to create one of my favorite kinds of salads. Cucumber and something…
You’ve probably seen at least one of my favorites - spicy cucumber salad, but this time, it was cucumber with mint and it’s just the perfect flavor if the Middle East is where you’re dining tonight. Seriously, this is a 5-minute one.
Beyond accessibility of ingredients and spices, globalization whether through human movement or our access to new information has had a profound impact on cooking New neighbors, new restaurants, new clicks on though the bunny trails has created such wonderful opportunities to experience new combinations of flavors, ingredients and cooking methods. Most certainly it’s impacted my movement from confirmed carnivore to exclusively plant-based consumer. We get to make new first impressions, expand our favorites and create new traditions while just ‘being local’. Good food, good times. Peace.Print
Middle Eastern bulgur with vegetables with a unique sweet flavor of Baharat spice blend that transforms the average plant-based dinner to the special.
Baharat – Middle Eastern spice blend
- ¼ cup crumbled bay leaves (about 2.5 gm)
- 2 ½ tsp. ground ginger
- 2 ½ cinnamon sticks (1 ¾ tsp. ground)
- 2 tsp. ground nutmeg (or 1 whole nutmeg ground)
- 2 ½ tsp. whole cloves (1 ¾ ground)
- 4 ½ tsp whole allspice (3 tsp. ground)
- 2 tsp. black peppercorns
- 1 tsp. white peppercorns
- 1 ½ tsp. ground cardamom
Bulgur with vegetables
- 2 medium onions, diced (about 2 ½ cups)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups diced carrots (about 4 carrots depending on size)
- 1 medium zucchini (courgette), diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced (about 4 tomatoes depending on size)
- 1 -2 tsp. Baharat
- 2 cups bulgur, rinsed
- 4 cups vegetable broth or water
- 1 tsp. salt (optional)
- Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
- Lemon wedges (optional)
- 1 cucumber, seeds removed, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced into half moons
- 1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. finely chopped mint
- 1/2 tsp. agave syrup or another liquid sweetener
- Salt and pepper (optional)
- To make the Baharat spice mix, combine all the ingredients in a spice grinder and blend until all the whole spices are broken down.
- To prepare the bulgur and vegetables, heat a medium soup pot to medium and add the onions. Saute for about 5 minutes to allow the onions to become soft and release their sugars. Add the garlic and stir for another 30 seconds.
- Add the carrots, zucchini and red pepper and continue to saute for another 5 minutes.
- Stir in the tomatoes and 1 tsp. of the mixed spices. Mix well and allow the flavors to start to merge and tomatoes to break down for another minute.
- Add the rinsed bulgur and the 4 cups of vegetable broth. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pot and simmer for another 15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.
- Taste the bulgur with vegetables and add more of the spice mix and salt (if using).
- Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon wedges.
- For the cucumber-mint salad, mix all the ingredients together. Be sure to mix it together a few times before serving so all the flavors combine.
- Nutritional information does not include the cucumber salad
- You will only use 1-2 tsp. of the Baharat for this recipe and you will have plenty of spice leftover, so store is in a sealed container or sealed bag and be sure to label it for next time.
- As noted in my post, you can substitute the same amount of quinoa or rice for the bulgur if you want a gluten-free option.
- If you can’t get fresh tomatoes, you can use 1 can of tomatoes, although you will have a more distinctive tomato flavor than the original dish.
- Category: Main Courses
- Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Keywords: bulgur with vegetables