You might say bulgur is a convenience food — in fact, it’s the oldest processed food known to man. Fresh, unhusked wheat is boiled, then dried, husked and cracked. In the eastern Mediterranean, villagers produce bulgur as their ancestors have done for millennia, boiling the wheat in huge pots and spreading it on rooftops to dry. Unlike many processing methods, which strip away nutrients, this process actually drives nutrients deep into the grain.
For primitive people, bulgur was a godsend. It resists spoilage and infestation by pests. For us, its best assets are nutrition and speed. Since it contains all components of the grain (germ, bran and endosperm), it’s a whole grain, with all the nutritional virtues that implies. And since it’s already partially cooked, it only needs a quick soak in hot water before it heads to the table—bulgur cooks in about 10 minutes, compared to wheat berries, which take about an hour.
Bulgur (also sold as bulgar and burghul) is often confused with cracked wheat; however, it’s not the same. Bulgur is precooked, while cracked wheat is not.
Fine grade bulgur, which can be soaked rather than cooked, is ideal for tabbouleh and other salads. The larger grades hold up better in long-cooking casseroles and stews. For maximum nutrition, look for richly colored bulgur — a lighter color may indicate that some of the bran has been removed.
—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.