Turkish Recipes – Bulgur Wheat Craving

In Turkey, there is a type of restaurant called Ocakbaşı. You go to these restaurants when you want to eat grilled meat, cooked on an open barbecue within the restaurant. My favourite meal, whenever we go to places like this, is chicken şiş kebab. Skewered chunks of chicken and vegetables are placed on the grill and once cooked, they’re usually served on a bed of lavaş bread, with a side salad and bulgur wheat.

Bulgur Wheat

Bulgur wheat – A serving of bulgur pilav

Along with rice, bulgur wheat is a bit of a staple in Turkey. Walk around Fethiye market and you’ll see a number of stalls selling it by the kilo from huge plastic bowls. Supermarkets stock it, pre-packed, on their shelves alongside rice, lentils and other dried foods. Fine bulgur wheat (köftelik bulgur) resembles couscous and we’ve used it in the past for other Turkish recipes. (Click here to see our kısır recipe which uses fine bulgur.) However, it’s the larger grains which are used to make bulgur pilav.

Last night, I was craving chicken şiş served with bulgur wheat (bulgur pilav) and as we weren’t about to head out into the cold night air, I set about creating my own version. Şiş kebabs are just not the same unless barbecued so I decided to do grilled chicken breast to go with the bulgur. Our fridge was also decidedly sparse of salad so we had a serving of stir-fried Mediterranean vegetables instead.

Turkish Vegetables

Vegetables for the side serving. The tomatoes will be used in the cooking of the bulgur

  • First of all, butterfly two chicken breasts, cut them into goujons and score one side.
  • Pour around a tablespoon of olive oil onto your grill pan and spread it around. Just enough to prevent the chicken pieces from sticking.
Chicken Şiş Spices

A spice rub for the chicken breast

Chicken breast, especially when it’s sliced thinly, can get a bit dry so I always make a spicy (of course!) rub for it.

  • In a pestle and mortar, place a clove of garlic, pinch of cumin seed, coriander seed, just a couple of fennel seeds (they’re strong!), black peppercorns, chilli flakes or chilli powder, a pinch of salt, a glug of olive oil and the juice of quarter of a lemon. The lemons in Fethiye are super juicy at the moment so you might need to use half a lemon if you’re not in a citrus-growing area.
  • Mash and grind all these ingredients together in your pestle and mortar to make a rough paste.
  • This is the messy (but fun) bit. Get your fingers in and rub the mixture into the scores you made on the chicken breast.

I squeezed a little more lemon over the top of the chicken, just for good measure.

For The Bulgur Pilav

Bulgur Wheat Pilav

The bulgur wheat takes on the colours of the tomatoes and pepper paste

As with the Turkish rice recipe, we’re going to be using double the amount of liquid to bulgur wheat.

  • Chop a couple of medium-sized tomatoes and saute them in a little olive oil in a large saucepan.
  • If you want, you can also add some finely chopped onion. I usually do, but last night I was using onion in the vegetable stir fry and I didn’t want to overdo it.
  • After a few minutes, fill a coffee mug with bulgur and add it to the pan.
  • Stir for three or four minutes.
  • Using the same coffee mug, fill it with water, pour it into the pan and then fill it again (about three quarters full this time) and add that to the pan. Give the mixture a good stir.

I used just less than 2 mugs of water because my tomatoes were quite watery so that made up the extra liquid. If you want (we want!), you can also add some chilli flakes or chilli powder at this point.

Bring to the boil and then turn to a medium heat and cover. I usually leave a small gap.

Bulgur wheat takes around 10 minutes to cook. You need to cook it till the liquid has evaporated and then leave it to stand for about 5 minutes. It does tend to stick to the bottom of the pan while cooking so give it a stir every so often.

Just as you remove it from the heat, add a dessert spoonful of red pepper paste (biber salcası) just for extra colour and richness to the taste. Stir it in and then place the lid back on the pan.

Ocakbaşı Chicken with Bulgur Wheat Pilav

The home version of ocakbaşı chicken served with bulgur pilav

Once you’ve got your bulgur wheat underway, you can prepare your salad or, in our case, stir fry your vegetables and grill your chicken.

When you serve your chicken, there will probably be juices left behind in the grill pan. Lemon, oil, spices. It’s naughty, I know, but drizzle these juices over the top of your chicken. Lovely!

We made this dish for two of us and we have got more than enough left over for lunch today. I’ve mixed the vegetables into the bulgur, there are a few chicken goujons left and we’re going to eat it all with a piece of lavaş bread and some cacık. Roll on lunchtime…

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  1. I had a bulgar wheat for the first time a few years ago and didn’t even know what it was back then. I wasn’t too crazy about it at first but now I love it and have it about once a week when we eat out at my favourite Turkish restaurant in Paris.

    I tried cooking it once but it was a complete failure but next time I’ll use your recipe because yours looks just like how it is in the restaurant.

  2. That’s for this great recipe. I alternate between quinoa and bulghur wheat – love it, love the adaptability and flavor.

  3. @ Andrea: Hope it works for you if you do try it! :)

    We didn’t know what it was at first, either. We know someone with a wheat intolerance and they were eating it, thinking it was rice! They soon worked out what the problem was. :)

    We eat it a lot because it’s so cheap and filling.

  4. @ Belinda: We always have both sizes of bulgur in the house – if we can’t think of what to eat, there’s usually something one of us can rustle up.

    Never had quinoa before. I presume it’s similar?

  5. I am lovin’ your Turkish recipes!! I think it’s incredible how we all learn from each other. Thank you for sharing :)

  6. I like bulghur as an alternative to rice. It’s tasty when it soaks up cooking juices. Mind you, I rarely cook with it!

  7. @ Kimberley: Well, we certainly learn a lot from you. :)

    @ Corinne: And I read yesterday that bulgur is much better for us than even brown rice. Less calories and more fibre.

  8. Anonymous says:

    in Syria and Jordan (maybe Eastern Turkey) there is another wheat based dish called Freekeh which is made with roasted wheat as opposed to bulgur which is parboiled and dried. Freekeh is served with grilled chicken. We prepare it with diced onions, bell peppers, green peas and spices. Top it with fried pine nuts and almonds with some yogurt on the side.


  9. This is absolutely how I love bulgur pilaf, with tomatoes and onions.Sometimes I add some chopped meat into it. I love to have it with yogurt or cacik. Yum!

  10. @ Zerrin: So tasty isn’t it? I’ve never thought of adding chopped meat into it. A good way of getting a meat fix without it costing too much! :)

  11. Bulgur wheat really does look a lot like couscous. What a great looking dish, I hope it tasted just as good as it looks.

  12. @ Mabiref: That sounds gorgeous. Would like to try that sometime.

    @ Steve: Yep,looks very like couscous. As far as I know, couscous is made from semolina. Bulgur is what it is – just wheat. It’s fantastic served with grilled or barbecued (even better) meat.

  13. Just made the bulgur wheat and marinaded the chicken to have this eve. I didnt have much veg at home so I’ve made a roasted red pepper and chickpea salad. I am so excited to serve it to the family tonight! Thanks, easy and yummy looking recipe!

  14. @ Kim: Hope you enjoyed it. I’s really easy to make and we eat it a lot. Your chickpea and roasted red pepper salad sounds lovely. :)

  15. Anonymous says:

    Does anyone know how many calories there are in bulgar wheat.as it is just too delicious!!?

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