Today, we are celebrating Lebanon’s National Day. The opportunity for 196 flavors to feature Levantine cuisine.
We are well over 250 recipes on the blog so far (and even 500 if you count the translations!) and it is starting to be difficult to keep track of all the recipes that we have published, especially for someone who is approaching an older age like me… even though I think Vera has more troubles given her older age… (I have a feeling someone’s gonna get killed)
When we decided to feature Lebanon this week, I asked my wife Anne to suggest a recipe to me. She immediately thought of tabbouleh. So I bought everything to prepare this typical Levantine appetizer. The next day, Véra reminded me that we had already featured this dish ! So I was back to square one with a bunch of bulgur that I rarely use.
But what is bulgur anyway? Those who find culinary science boring, please skip to the recipe as we are going to be very geeky here !
To start with, the word bulgur does not come from Bulgaria, but Turkey, which seems to be the cradle of wheat culture. Bulgur is a product made from durum wheat, where part of the bran is removed. It is then steamed, dried and crushed.
Once sorted, it is classified into 3 (sometimes up to 4) sizes: #1 fine, #2 medium, #3 coarse.
Fine grain (#1) is used as breakfast cereals, for breads or desserts. It can be used for tabbouleh, just like medium size grain.
Medium grain (#2) is used in salads, stews, soups or in kibbehs, veggie burgers or chili.
Coarse grain (#3) can be used in pilaf, but also in stews, soups or salads.
Fine grain can be cooked just like rice, but can also simply be prepared by combining with water or other liquid and letting it soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Medium and coarse grains are traditionally cooked like rice in twice their volume of water.
There are many products that are produced from wheat. Semolina, for example, is a product of the cereal but is not prepared like bulgur. Semolina is made from wheat, mostly durum wheat, which is moistened and then dried and sieved. It is therefore not precooked like bulgur and requires more time to fully cook. There are also several sizes for semolina, from durum wheat flour that is used in the manufacturing of pasta to coarse semolina which is used to make couscous like couscous au beurre.
But semolina can also be made from cassava instead of durum wheat. It will be called attieke. I used attieke last year to make gluten-free couscous au beurre to my friend Jonathan who is gluten intolerant. I must admit that it was not a memorable dining experience. Cornmeal, used to make polenta is also prepared using the same procedure with corn instead of wheat.
Another product from the milling of wheat, green or young wheat this time, is freekeh that we featured in our freekeh with chicken recipe.
The dish I decided to prepare for the Independence Day of the country also known as “Switzerland of the Middle East” is burghul bi dfeen. Yes, another unpronounceable name. It had been a while!
I must admit that when I read the recipe, I thought that my family would love it but I was not personally convinced. Bulgur, pearl onions, chickpeas, meat. I was also apprehensive about the photogenic quality of the dish. Well, I have to say I was more than pleasantly surprised by the taste and texture of this dish. As for the pictures, I’ll let you be the judge as I still think that there are dishes that are way easier to photograph than a brownish stew.
Bulgur was perfectly cooked and the addition of chickpeas gave the dish the perfect texture. Spices enhance the dish and give it its middle-eastern touch. Burghul bi dfeen is traditionally prepared with samneh, which is nothing more than clarified butter, also quite used in Indian cooking and known over there as ghee. I found some traditional recipes that used oil instead of samneh and stuck to those. If you use samneh, finish the dish with one or two tablespoons of it over the bulgur before serving. This dish is also used often with a kind of thick yogurt called labneh.
A delicious traditional recipe to prepare for the winter. I highly recommend it!
- ½ cup chickpeas
- 12 small white onions
- 2 cups bulgur
- 1½ lb beef (or lamb), cubed
- 2 tablespoons Lebanese "7 spices" blend aka sab3a bharat (allspice, black and/or white pepper, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cloves, ginger)
- 2 bones beef (or lamb)
- 4 tablespoons samneh (clarified butter), or olive oil
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- Soak the chickpeas in enough water to cover for at least 8 hours and ideally overnight.
- Peel the pearl onions and keep them whole. Alternatively, blanch the pearl onions for 1 to 2 minutes in boiling water to make them easier to peel.
- Brown the meat and bones in a large uncovered pressure cooker with a little oil or 2 tablespoons samneh for about ten minutes.
- Remove meat.
- Fry the pearl onions in the same pressure cooker for 5 minutes.
- Cook the drained chickpeas in enough water to cover in a pressure cooker under high pressure for 15 minutes. Remove and drain chick peas.
- Place meat, bones and salt in the pressure cooker, cover with water and cook under pressure for 30 minutes.
- Open the pressure cooker, add the pearl onions and cook for five more minutes.
- Remove the meat and onions from the stew.
- Add the chickpeas and bulgur and a tablespoon of the "7 spices" blend.
- Simmer uncovered, until the chickpeas and bulgur are tender.
- Add more water if necessary. Add salt and pepper.
- Serve the bulgur and chickpeas on a plate. Pour two tablespoons samneh or olive oil on the stew.
- Top with meat and onions. Sprinkle "7 spices" blend to taste.
- Garnish with a tablespoon of labneh (optional).