It’s interesting how much our tastes and eating habits change as we grow up. When we’re young, we eat what we’re given by parents, family & friends. We learn to love and loathe certain ingredients. We embrace or become wary of different cuisines by the reactions we see around us. We’re defined by the contents of our lunchboxes in the playground and our first-flat-fridges when friends come round for dinner.
My beloved mum who never met a vegetable she didn’t want to start a meaningful relationship with and who placed great importance during my and my sister’s childhoods on eating well balanced meals around a table together was also famous among my friends for always having a tin of mini chocolate bars in our cupboard and this approach of ‘everything in moderation’ is as deeply embedded in me from her as my love for Rhett Butler & strawberry milk.
Something that I’ve recently tried, subsequently loved and which I’m sure my pre-teen self might have wrinkled her nose at are wholegrains. I know, I know, you get that I like them because I talk about them a bit.
Okay a lot.
Alright, all the time but I can’t help it – there are so many benefits to these tiny nuggets of loveliness that I become impassioned on their behalf whenever they come up in conversation. Like Frodo Baggins or Oliver Twist, wholegrains might appear on the surface to be the quiet, unassuming underdog but overlook them at your peril because like our pointy-eared hobbit or Cockney, jazz handed orphan, there’s much more to them than meets the eye.
Simple, healthy & filling? Check.
An average cup packing a whopping 33% dietary fibre? Check.
Helping to reduce the risk of strokes, diabetes & heart disease? Check.
Wholegrains add bulk to a quick dinner meaning you feel full on less calorie intake, make the perfect next-day-leftovers lunch and greedily absorb whatever flavours you want to drizzle or drench them with and this one pot recipe is an excellent example of this.
Ever look at recipes online and think ‘what the heck is that?’ I know I have. I’ve wondered how I’ll ever find something in my own neighbourhood that’s originated from some far flung corner of the world and frankly, I get tired at the thought of how much time, effort & cash I’m going to have to shell out before I’ve even made it to the kitchen.
Not this dish. Not this recipe. Not this time.
See? Nothing you don’t recognise and nothing you cannot find in your local corner shop, superstore or market.
INGREDIENTS (for two people)
- 150g bulgar wheat
- 1 tin of drained chickpeas, rinsed well in cold water
- olive oil
- medium strength curry powder
- 1 pepper (any colour is fine though red, orange & yellow are often sweeter than green)
- 1/2 a red onion (a bunch of spring onions or half a white onion will also suffice but I like the sweetness of red)
- 1 red chilli pepper (although these chillis aren’t scorching, they are optional so if you’re not a fan of heat, leave them out)
- 1/3 of a cucumber, diced
- 2 salad tomatoes (quartered cherry or baby plum tomatoes are equally delicious)
- 1 avocado
- 1 lemon
- 40g baby spinach (regular is fine but you may find the leaves a bit large for this dish)
- handful of roughly chopped coriander
- 1 chicken breast cooked & shredded (this is plenty for 2 people when combined with everything else though it’s equally delicious when omitted making the dish vegetarian)
*If you like to feel super organised in the kitchen, I suggest you do all your prep first, keeping each ingredient piled separately on a large plate so all you need to do is add them to the pan when called for. If you like living on the proverbial knife edge, chop and toss in as you go.*
- Prepare your bulgar according to the instructions on the pack – fundamentally you’re going to bring it to the boil then simmer in the same way you cook rice; make sure you taste it every 5 minutes or so to ensure you reach the consistency you like but ideally it should have a little bite left in it and a simple, nutty flavour which will take about 10-12 minutes.
- Drizzle a good glug of olive oil into a large pan or wok; enough to lightly cover the base when warm and swirled round is fine and pop the heat on your stove to a low-medium temperature.
- Dice your onion & pepper; I like to do them so they’re roughly the size of my thumbnail though clearly (!) that will differ for everyone. De-seed and finely dice the chilli then add all 3 ingredients to your pan.
- Allow them to start cooking and getting a little colour then add the chickpeas and stir it all together.
- While they gently saute in the pan, dice your tomatoes then add them, the chicken & a good dusting of curry powder into the pan; I’ve not prescribed curry powder amounts as everyone has a different palate when it comes to spices – I like a good full flavour that doesn’t blow your head off but can’t be mistaken for anything other than what it is but if you’re unsure, start slow & add as you go along.
- Once your bulgar is cooked, rinse it well with boiling water then add it to the pan…by now you may be understanding why I suggest a large pan or even a wok which is what we use, as throwing your dinner over the floor while trying to combine it is annoying and, depending on how hungry you are, may result in you employing a teaspoon and the ‘3 second rule’ in rapid succession.
- Keep adding the curry powder till you reach your limit and keep gently turning everything over but try not to smash everything into a pulp as you do so because one of the lovely things about this dish is the variety of colours and textures you’ll end up with.
- Add the spinach and cucumber; you’re nearly done which is why we include these here – you want to wilt the spinach the gentlest amount but you don’t want to cook the cucumber.
- Halve the lemon at this point and generously squeeze one half over the pan – the sharpness contrasts beautifully to the warming spices.
- Once everything is well mixed, your chicken shreds are hot and your vegetables & chickpeas are softened but not baby food, dish up as you see fit and by that I mean, this is delicious. Has your dining companion been well behaved enough to deserve a 50% share of what you’ve just created for them or are chef’s perks going to come into play resulting in a 60-40% split? FYI, it’s also super tasty cold or reheated the next day if you find it’s all come together to make a little more than you’re used to eating.
- Spoon curls of avocado over the top of each plate and add the remaining lemon half cut into wedges; we love eating this with poppadums as bread feels too heavy but it’s nice having something to scoop it up with.
I really hope you love this as much as we do but as my beloved reader, you must promise me two things;
a) Please please please do not get stressed about cooking this; if you’ve never prepared bulgar before and you end up with a plate of mush or tiny bullet-like grains, do not stress. If you add too much curry powder and need a pint of milk rather than a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to wash it down with, do not stress. Cooking should be fun and when it’s not, lay down the spoon, turn off the heat, put on some chilled music and just breathe for a minute. Do not reach for the takeout menu – your dinner will be delicious trust me.
b) Experiment. This is a simple recipe that came about when I threw together a lot of things that we liked individually and you can try new things in it as much as you like. In fact, I hope you do and when it’s a huge success, please come back and let me know! Don’t like curry powder? Try smoked paprika or even BBQ seasoning. Not a fan of pepper or onion? Add petite cauliflower florets or sliced green beans. Remove the chicken and add chorizo. Replace the spinach with kale. Literally, try whatever you like – just remember if you use bigger pieces of firmer ingredients, they may take longer to cook.
I can’t guarantee you’ll become as infatuated with bulgar as I now am but I promise it will show you how easy wholegrains are to deal with, how great they taste, what an amazing alternative they are to rice and who knows? Maybe this will be the start of your family remembering how brilliantly you opened their eyes to something new and introduced them to something they’ll take with them in their edible future.