Toasted Bulgur Pilaf with Zucchini

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Think of bulgur pilaf the same way you do rice pilaf–except so much healthier with all of the protein and fiber in bulgur. Use coarse bulgur, known as “#3,” for pilafs like this.

Toasted Bulgur with spoon, Maureen Abood
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It’s true that I grew up in a big Lebanese family, fulfilling my daily role in the preparation (and let’s not forget: clean up) of many a large Lebanese recipe.

With that, there came a time when the grass in any smaller family’s yard looked ever so green, much greener than at home where there were far too many little feet tamping down the lawn for kickball, far too many forks in the sink and plates on the drain board.

I remember having dinner at my friend Cindy’s house as a kid, where there were two daughters only, and the salad on the table was in a reasonable-sized, a normal-sized, bowl—not a gargantuan wood bowl like ours, a bowl so big my mom could have bathed two kids at once in it after dinner. I liked the physical smallness of Cindy’s world, a place where I first fell in love with her miniatures, tiny treasures we fussed over in her tiny little bedroom (which was her own, her very own, not shared).

Cinnamon stix, Maureen Abood

Cindy, on the other hand, would pine for my house, that loud Lebanese place. It got so that we agreed we’d swap, and instead of having a regular sleepover she would head to my house and I would head to hers for the night, each of us ensconced in our own definitions of the ideal family. (We never did do it)

A similar sense emerged when I headed out to San Francisco for culinary school. I was living on my own for the first time in a lot of years, making everything small-batch and feasting on books like Judith Jones’ The Pleasures of Cooking for One. I kept the solitary spirit alive when I moved back to Michigan after that, Up North on my own.

Coarse Bulgur, Maureen Abood
Toasted Bulgur and Zucchini, Maureen Abood

This last year has brought the circle back to its big, huge Lebanese beginnings, to a place where no matter how much food I cook, it will get eaten by any number of the (mostly) men who now populate my kitchen and my life. They feast on it gratefully, as though it is the finest food they’ve ever eaten, no matter what I place before them—a cook’s dream.

Sometimes I ask Dan if I should roast the second chicken too, or if my amount of salad is enough. He’s never done anything but nod me into making more food, because more is better, and more means that more of the people we love might be showing up and slowing down to sit together and eat.

When I was talking to Aunt Louise recently about her incredibly good Lebanese bulgur wheat dish with koosa (or zucchini), I asked her how many cups she makes at a time. I was already well into my batch of one small, reasonable cup.

Two cups, she said. Usually more. Because really, you can never have too much.

Toasted Bulgur Pilaf with Zucchini,
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Toasted Bulgur Pilaf.

Bulgur pilaf is made the same as rice, with the same rule of thumb of liquid (water, vegetable stock, chicken stock) to bulgur being 2 to 1. Consider bulgur pilaf your playground! Add chickpeas, and most vegetables sauteed will be good here too.
Servings: 8


  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups coarse bulgur
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
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  • Slice the zucchini lengthwise into 4 spears, then cut those into 1/4 inch wedges.
  • In a medium sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the bulgur and stir until it is lightly toasted and fragrant, and the bulgur begins to show small specs of white, about 3 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock, tuck in the cinnamon stick, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook, covered, over medium low heat until the stock is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook the zucchini and onion. Melt the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring regularly, until it is translucent but not browned. Add the zucchini with a pinch of salt and cook, continuing to stir, until it is bright in color and soft, about 10 minutes total.
  • When the bulgur is done, remove the lid and let it sit for a few minutes to release some steam and dampness. Remove the cinnamon stick and stir in the zucchini and onion. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serveimmediately.

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Author: Maureen Abood
Servings: 8
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  1. Jo says:

    I love this recipe and usually cut the recipe in 1/2 as it’s only the two of us. I could eat it every day Thanks for sharing it.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      So easy to reduce or increase the quantity on this one. Thank you Jo!

  2. Lisa says:

    I just discovered this site after listening to The Splendid Table. I came from a large German family where food was the center of the family. It has been difficult to adapt to being an empty nester and cooking only for myself. I am grateful for the Cooking for One cookbook tip and have it reserved at my library.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Wonderful! Welcome!

  3. Mike says:

    Unfortunately I have never in my life come across Bulgur. But it would be something I would like to get my hands on in the near future. Nevertheless, this is undeniably a delicious recipe, and I better start hunting for substitute grains. Unless you have any suggestions?

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      You wil be able to find it here soon Mike! Can’t wait for you to try it!

  4. Virginia says:

    This sounds delicious, Maureen. It reminded me of a dish my mother used to make that I had forgotten about and haven’t had in years!

    The bulgar was cooked in much the same way, but she used onions, garlic and tomato paste with stock to make hers. So it came out all tomatoey-red and delicious. I’m going to get some zucchini today, and meld your recipe with hers – I bet it will be delicious.

    Thanks for sharing, cousin.

  5. maritachicita @ says:

    I came from a family with 3 siblings (which was a lot in Germany) and all I ever wanted was to be a single child. Today I would not swap my big family for anything.

  6. Diane Nassir (my maternal grandmother was an Abowd from Ammun, Leb.) says:

    Yes the bustling family home made ever so much sweeter with the addition of all the Nassir Uncles, Aunts, and Cousins! With huge restaurant sized bowls of taboolie and pans of kibbie and pots of rice and bowls of luban–Wouldn’t have it any other way! Thank you for giving me all these wonderful memories!

  7. Elaine @ foodbod says:

    Hi Maureen

    I loved reading your story, I came from that small, quiet family that dreamed of being in a big, bustling busy household! The grass is always greener…until we get old enough to realise that its actually best right where we are 🙂
    Love the recipe and I am enjoying reading lots of your blog x