Ingredient: Cracked wheat, or bulghur
Aug 08, 2011, Updated Jan 09, 2023
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When I was in cooking school, we spent a multi-week session on grains. Our chef instructor, Frances, has a love affair with grains (as she does, not surprisingly, with ingredients of all kinds) that’s contagious, and her enthusiasm got me thinking. Mostly about the dearth of grains in my diet, and how I was going to rectify this now that my grain repertoire had expanded so. But despite the farro, the quinoa, the wild rice, the couscous, and still more farro, I found myself turning to my familiar cracked wheat for inspiration. I mixed it with dried apricots, pistachios, and other good things to make stuffings for our deboned chickens, squab, and quail. When I suggested it again one day to my cooking partner, he asked what’s with me and all of the cracked wheat?
The truth is that cracked wheat is a central ingredient in Lebanese cuisine, both as a healthy counterpoint to other ingredients in various dishes or as the star of the show when it’s toasted and cooked with chicken broth and tomatoes.
Later this week we are going to make the ultimate Lebanese salad: tabbouleh. So pick up some cracked wheat if you don’t have any, because this is a salad you will want to make and eat with your grilled meats and other summer delights. Bulghur is an important ingredient in tabbouleh, but it’s far from the star of the show. In fact, you better not see much cracked wheat peeking out from a Lebanese tabbouleh, or you’re in trouble. The tabbouleh police will arrest you, and fast. That’s because tabbouleh is a parsley salad with other delicious ingredients, and the bulghur is just a supporting actor at best.
Bulghur is wheat that has been parboiled, dried, and coarsely ground. It need not be cooked to be eaten; it can just be softened for a short time in water, and it plumps up beautifully, all dressed up and ready to go. Cracked wheat comes in three “grades,” indicating the size of the grain. The #1 is fine grade, #2 medium, and #3 grade is coarse. Use #1 fine grade for tabbouleh. I had trouble finding good cracked wheat in my neighborhood markets out in San Francisco, but here in Michigan, not surprisingly, it’s more readily available. You can buy cracked wheat online here.
We’re going to cook with cracked wheat regularly, and I think you’re going to enjoy it just as much, if not more, than any other grain in your pantry (or any other grain in your good intentions to eat more grains).