bulgur salad with chickpeas and red peppers

One thing I have heard a lot of since I launched this site but six months ago is “I just don’t know how you find all that time to cook.” And while my typical response is that “Oh, well I don’t have a life so that makes it really easy,” and I’m only a little bit joking — my office is 13 blocks from my apartment, I rarely work past 6:30 p.m., I tend to wake up hours before my husband on the weekends, eager to fiddle with recipes that would otherwise be too time-consuming, and I don’t have the energy or the liver to go out many nights a week anymore — the truth is that aside from making some fresh pasta with about two pounds of wild mushrooms two Sundays ago, I haven’t cooked dinner for us in weeks. And I hate it.

You know the song; gym, errands, dinners and drinks and too many nights of getting home with no energy or, frankly, ingredients to start anything but pasta with butter and garlic, delicious but probably not the best bang for your caloric buck. If you are what you eat, I should be about 50 percent steamed vegetable dumplings, 30 percent black bean soup, 10 percent tofu pad Thai and an equal part mushroom, leek and goat cheese crepe by now, and while all of these things are excellent examples of the range of auto-dial food available in my part of the island, it does not mean that they are met with any less groaning as we pour through white container after container, creating a hideous amount of both waste and food ennui. Sure, things do get prepared in the kitchen — a biga at 11 p.m. on a Saturday, a soda bread at 10 on a Thursday, a cake on a Saturday morning — but nothing before 9 p.m., or you know, pretty much the point-of-no-return to start home cooked weekday dinners.

My apologies; I really hadn’t meant to bring on the tiny violins, I just had to vent the level of frustration I have being kept from the daily meditation of chopping salad ingredients, whisking dressings and preparing the kind of low-fuss, guilt-free food we all deserve on a Tuesday night. Though I had three errands to run last night and Alex has a work-related dinner, I swore that even if I ate at 10 p.m., the meal would be by my own hand. And for once, I kept this promise.

As you might have noticed through last week’s barley salad, I’m trying to wean us off the couscous, not because we don’t love it, I’ve just started to wonder why it has become our go-to grain when there’s such a wider range of textures, flavors and nutrients out there. Sure, couscous can be prepared in about 5 minutes flat, but soaking this fine-grained bulgur for all of twenty while I chopped the other salad ingredients doesn’t exactly make it prohibitively time-consuming for a tightly-scheduled evening.

I’ve actually made this salad before, probably over a year ago, but either I’m a total spice pansy, my cayenne is hotter than your cayenne (cha cha cha) or a half-teaspoon is really an assaulting amount for this quantity of salad but I found it aggressively over-spiced and actually inedible. (Alex, The Spice Junkie, loved it.) This time I used a 1/4 teaspoon and found it to have a more harmonious kick. I also added a handful of quartered yellow cherry tomatoes and a finely chopped small red onion, because no recipe is the boss of me (nya nya). One toasted pita and a few leaves of Bibb lettuce later, I had the whole thing finished and ready to eat in time to watch Edward Scissorhands! Wow, it’s been a while. He snipped (bouffants), I sipped (wine) and reveled in a plastic takeout container free evening at last. I believe we call that a good night around here.

oh, and wine

Bulgur Salad with Chickpeas, Roasted Red Peppers and Spiced Cumin Dressing
Adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

Serves 4 as a main course.

1 1/2 cups fine-grain bulgur
3 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
6 ounces drained jarred roasted red peppers, diced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup quartered yellow cherry tomatoes
1 small red onion, finely chopped (to reduce its bite, you can soak it and then squeeze it out with the bulgur for some or all of the absorption time)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1 medium head Bibb lettuce, leaves separated
4 pita breads, warmed and cut into wedges

1. Place the bulgur in a large bowl. Add the boiling water and set aside, stirring occasionally, until the bulgur has softened, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the bulgur, shaking the strainer and gently pressing out excess moisture. Return the bulgur to the bowl.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice, honey, cumin, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon salt together in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil until the dressing is smooth.

3. Add the chickpeas, roasted peppers, tomatoes, red onion and parsley to the bowl with the drained bulgur and stir to combine. Drizzle the dressing over the bulgur mixture and toss to combine.

4. Line each individual plate with several lettuce leaves. Mound some bulgur salad over the lettuce and tuck some pita wedges into the salad at several places around the plate. Serve.

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60 comments on bulgur salad with chickpeas and red peppers

  1. Oh i know that feeling of not having time/energy to cook. I also have been moving this month from the bland UES where I lived to the quiet, but fabulous Tribeca, so cooking has taken a backburner (pardon the pun). Not to mention, writing up the recipe, editing pictures and putting it all together – ta-da… Your salad above, however, looks wonderful and right in time for the first day of spring!

  2. LyB

    I have to admit, I have never eaten bulgur. I’d love to try it though, but I’ve been known to reach for what’s already in the pantry and that would be couscous! This salad though might be just the thing to get me to buy some bulgur and finally try somthing new. And your pictures look so “summery” they are making me long for warmer weather!

  3. About the “no time to cook” one-liners, it has always amazed me how many people say that with the hint of pity upon learning that I can and do spend much of my time in the kitchen. So suddenly having the majority of my schedule being taken up and not getting home until laaaate at night, it’s been a real eye opener. I can relate a lot to what you’re saying, my life has picked up 10x’s to the detriment of the usual routine of homecooked meals and to my little food blog. (So this is how busy people live like! No sir, I don’t like it.)

    I’m happy for you to be getting back, it must be a sweet relief. De-lurking to say hello and a cheers!

  4. Vespa Rosso

    I wonder if there’s a way to put one of those ‘recipe boxes’ on your site, like Epicurious, or have…there are just so many delicious recipes here, and I find my “favorites” folder overrun with SmittenKitchen links! :) I’m planning on making this tonight — thanks!

  5. I can definitely understand the lack of energy to cook at times, it happens to the best of us. But this salad looks like the perfect antidote for cooking blues, light and refreshing. You should try using quinoa as well, it doesn´t even take long to cook and it has a marvelous nutty flavor when toasted.

  6. deb

    Radish — Sweet! I totally forgot it’s spring. Also, free iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts today, though I forgot as usual. I’m with you about the UES thing. I was thrilled to move to Chelsea from there a few years ago, where everything is so close and more fun.

    LyB — You can also make tabouli with it, though I have yet to make it as well as a Syrian friend of mine once did. I really think the stuff you can do with it is limitless. I’ve bookmarked salads with artichokes, aspargus, almonds and lemon and one like the barley one, with eggplant and mint. Good luck!

    Butta — Indeed. I never understand why people say they don’t have time until it happens to me. But I miss it. And tire very quickly of takeout, even with our endless choices.

    Vespa — It’s on The List! ;) I am slowing making some changes around here. I’ve tried to increase the tagging/categories so they are more usable (grains, vegetarian, cookies, etc.). I’d also like to add some plugins for most popular posts, recipe ratings, comment previews, etc. So, hopefully soon.

    Marce — Quinoa is next! I have a recipe bookmarked that looks great, and another bookmarked that I’ll make next time Alex isn’t around because he’ll hate it. (Mangoes and nuts and curry!) I can’t wait.

  7. M

    I bet replacing the red onion with shallot would be yummy and less powerful, for onion wimps like me.
    p.s. I don’t even know what bulgur is. Ha.

  8. This is timely, i just picked up a box of bulgur the other day. I’ve never used it, and had no idea what to do with it. Thanks for the recipe!

    ps- I understand LWC syndrome. It seems to come in cycles.

  9. Kim

    Thanks for letting the rest of us know that we are not the only wimps, even the only foodie wimps, out there. =) I love mixing whole grains with chick peas, tomatoes, herbs, and olive oil and lemon juice. Okay, I usually use bulgar. But I bought millet and barley; I’m trying to branch out too! I bought Whole Grains Every Day Every Way and I love how it outlines how to cook each grain a basic way for applications like this salad.

  10. Looks like we’re all itching for spring, I can’t wait for it to get warmer and start making salads again. I’m definitely going to try this one out. I’ve been trying to sneak more whole grains in, so this will be good for us. Thanks!

  11. Beth

    Ok, I’m delurking for a confession… I’ve read the website since before it was Smitten Kitchen, before it was on iVillage and before you were married, but I waited until 3 or 4 months ago to make my first Smitten Kitchen dish because I was too intimidated. Once you showed how small your kitchen is, I realized I had no more excuses! Since then I’ve made the Sausage and Tomato Rissoto three times (my fiance absolutely loves it), the Orcheitte pasta dish, the Big Chewy chocolate chip cookies,and several other dishes. And I have an entire folder full of things I can’t wait to try.
    When I’m too tired or lazy to make dinner on a weeknight, which is usually at least 3 nights a week, I think of you slaving away in your kitchen slaving away on your newest obsession. It’s nice to know even my favorite food blogger has her down nights. Thanks for once again demystifying the cooking process to make it more attainable to a newbie like me!

  12. Ooooh, I so vote for a Jocelyn fill in day during the vacay! I can relate to no time to cook. Being on WW is making me cook more and I can’t just tell B that we need to go to Thai, Chinese, Indian Restaurant tonight.

    This salad looks delightful and it will go on my list of things to cook. I’m going to have fun looking for yellow cherry tomatoes. I wonder if I could use heirloom’s in place? Also, I’m going to have to nix the roasted peppers…*makes a face* But, that’s just me.

  13. It’s funny how you mention you hardly work past 6:30. That seems so late to me!! But I teach, and so I get home at around 3:45-4. I’m sure I start much earlier in the morning though…

    Glad you got to cook again! :)

  14. Hmmmm, I made the same cut-down-on-couscous resolution not long ago. Now I’m into quinoa, which works well for just these kinds of recipes. Thanks!

  15. I know what you mean about finding time and energy to cook. But when I avoid the temptation of take-outs on a weeknight and set myself the goal of cooking something faster than the pizza guy could arrive [if I have to do a smash-and-grab run to the grocery store first, the mental clock starts when I hit the kitchen], I enjoy the time in the kitchen. Whatever went on during the day seems to fade into the background as I get into slicing and chopping and sautéing… The cooking smells fill our apartment with anticipation and, well, hominess. And I feel smugly better about that we’re eating something better for us than most of the non-homecooked options out there.

    All that said, yeah, I can drive through with the best of them on occasion. Especially lately, as we too get ready to move [this Saturday!]. Is it just me or are half the food bloggers out there in the process of moving right now?

  16. Cupcakes

    Oh and I can guest blog too

    I mean, i did win a prize and all guest-blogging for jocelyn.

    so i guess that makes me an “award winning” guest-blogger.

    Its soo good to be me!


  17. Isn’t it fun when you get to cook for you and don’t have to worry about whether or not it’s spicy enough for anyone else? I love cooking for family and friends. The problem I have is with salt. I LOVE love love salty things, way more than I should, BUT I never salt my food after its prepared. So, it’s nice to cook and eat a meal without watching someone douse it with salt…

  18. What a great idea. I happen to have some bulger in my cupboards and always seem to use it to make tabbouleh. This would be a great variation. I LOVE the idea of the honey, cayenne and cumin. Some on my favorite flavors. Thank you so much!

  19. Arrrgh, cooking dinner. Don’t get me started. All my discipline comes from without, which is to say fewer choices — really lousy takeout options here in the North Bronx, and the beloved being between jobs. I’m just thankful for food blogs like yours, because without inspiration it’s all drudgery. But with a good infusion of fresh ideas, interesting projects to try, pretty pictures to try and emulate, and a once-a-week free-for-all at Fairway, I can get into the swing of cooking on a regular basis. It’s all momentum, too. If I get out of the habit it’s really hard to start it up again. If we can keep it down to takeout 3 or 4 times a month, and buying lunch during the workday not much more often than once a week, I feel like I’m doing a good job.

  20. Jennbecluv

    Just wanted to chime in about using alternative grains for salads and quick dinners. I’ve recently discovered SPELT and can’t rave enough about it. Extremely hearty grain that is lovely warm and cold. It’s tough to find though…usually at small co-ops or TraderJoe-type places. In any case, there aren’t a lot of recipes out there for it so I made up my own. To cook it, I just cover it with water in a plastic container and put it in the fridge the night before I want to use it. Then when you cook, just put a bit of nice oil or butter in the bottom of a deep skillet, “toast” the spelt grains for a few mins, and finally add enough broth to cover the spelt and put a lid (or tin foil in my case) over the skillet until it absorbs the liquid (30 mins+). Mix in some frozen peas, seasoning of choice, and fresh grated parma. Lovely. For salads, cook as above but cool before adding any extras.
    This grain is very chewy and filling. Should convert any and all couscous addicts in a flash!

  21. ann

    oh ho ho ho HO! you know what this needs? some of those teeny tiny middle eastern noodles that are kinda like broken up angel hair pasta. You toss them in hot oil and let them get all toasty and then cook them like regular pasta for about 3 minutes, then toss them with the bulgur.
    Trust me on this one, their added heft takes this recipe (which I’ve been toying with myself) to the next level of delicious ridiculosity.

  22. Thank god, you make me feel normal! I so understand the days or weeks of energy drain and the little white boxes:). Last night we had a boxed meal b/c it was 8:30 and I was so hungry when I opened my fridge for ideas, my eyes got wide and my brain felt mushy and my tummy grumbled and honey, just quick bring something home for dinner before my eyes pop out! ….and then it feels so good to get back into the kitchen, days later, with a certain calm intent of creating healthy, deliberate food…

    Thanks for normalizing my experience; great job sticking to your guns and cooking this round:). Such a great post.

  23. Love this post because my goodness, can’t we all identify! This week has been a week of cooking disasters for me, and when I’m not messing up some recipe my very helpful fiance is making dinner instead (which, although incredibly sweet and delicious, does not quite boost the cooking esteem). As Janelle said, I feel normal again!!

    Besides which, I lovelovelove bulgur and it is great to see another recipe with it as a main ingredient. It is so chewy and nutty in flavor – your recipe reminds me to use it more often

  24. I can’t seem to get enough grain salads these days. I’ve recently fallen for barley–the only downside is how long it takes to cook. I have some wheat berry salads on the to-make list, but I’d somehow forgotten about their quicker cooking version, bulgur. Thanks for the reminder!

    Oh, and for those days when even 20 minutes is too long, I’ve found that whole wheat couscous is a good way to sneak some whole grains in.

  25. it is hard to balance life and cook well at the same time. sigh. but i’m glad you shared this bulgur recipe… i always have some on hand and am always looking for different ways to use it

  26. KatiePac

    I am finally de-lurking to let you know that I made this salad yesterday and it was phenomenal (this coming from someone who didn’t even know what bulgar was ’til yesterday). Eating leftovers today was even better! Love your site, keep it up!

  27. I so understand what you mean about getting away from the standard grains. I recently kicked the couscous habit (I know, I know, it is not actually a grain) and tried bulgar, too. Same with other carbs. For example, we are trying to get away from white rice in favor of brown. That mostly works, except when it just has to be jasmine or aborio. But we just can’t get away from white flour pasta. Whole wheat pasta is generally vile and flavored pastas (spinach, beet, etc.), while amusing, are just all wrong. Sigh. At least the bulgar worked.

  28. I bookmarked this recipe over a year ago now, I see, but we finally made it last night. It was delicious, and so so easy. With a few extra pitas and hummus on the side, it felt like a feast.

  29. Kristy R.

    This is absolutely delicious! I add a lot more lemon juice than it calls for (about 3/4 cup) but that is just my taste preference. I tried tabbouleh before it was an absolute flop. This was a pleasant surprise after that :) Thanks for sharing it!

  30. Yum, yum, YUM! Just made this after tooling around the site for a while – absolutely delicious, and filling. I used the larger amount of cayenne and had to substitute green pepper for roasted red…still good, but not AS good. Thanks!

  31. Yelli

    Just to let everyone know, I made this and substituted mint for the parsley, canned diced tomatoes for yellow cherry tomatoes and left the onion out. It was delicious! Perfect recipe and it even tasted better the next day!

  32. Jade

    Do you think using coarse bulgur instead of fine would work? I’m trying to get rid of things in the pantry before I move, and I have some I don’t know what to do with!

    1. deb

      Jade — I haven’t cooked with it before but as long as you cook it as it should be (package directions?) I am sure it will be just as good.

  33. lee

    this is my first time writing here. i am addicted to smitten kitchen! i read here often and try stuff at home… so thanks!
    now, its possible that some one already told you this but i think you got the name wrong. see, im Israeli, and im quite certain the proper name is Burgul. i eat it all the time. its very very common around here. it comes in various sizes and forms and i prefer the thicker grinding. i also like it warm even hot, though people make fun of me cause of that so its probably better you wouldnt try it ;)
    i could be wrong though. thought you should know…
    love your blog!

    1. deb

      Lee — It maybe called something different in Israel. Around here, it is definitely called bulgur. I am curious as to other ways the Israeli version may be different…

  34. lee

    well, since its an arab thing,the proper name is the arab name- ????
    but it doesnt really matter… the wheat is cooked, grind and dried into different sizes. the thicker burgul is used primarily for Tabule salad (burgul and herbs), Majadra (lentils and burgul) and Kube (grind meet wrapped in a mixture of burgul and semolina and then fried). im sure you are familiar with these… since it only needs soaking its so easy to use and you can use it for pretty much everything!

  35. Slauditory

    I made this last night with quinoa, minus the chickpeas, lettuce, and pita. It was delightful! (I had a bbq chicken pizza, with dough made from your “simple pizza dough” recipe, with it–also a delight.) I love every single one of your recipes that I try. Thanks, Deb!

  36. Another winner! I’m loving this site! I made this recipe just as printed, with one exeption….I added some paprika and curry powder to the boiling water and let it simmer a bit. I love the spicy cumin dressing. I served this with some roasted eggplant and tomatoes on the side.

    Lee, bulgur has many different spellings depending what country you are in. Since wheat was first processed in 8,000 BC in Mesopotamia, bulgur was also a main food source in Eygyt, Rome and Greece as well as Turkey. Bulgur, Bulghur and Burghul are all variations of the Turkish word. If you are in Alabania it is called Bollgar and in Piligourii and Lebanese Arabs call it berghol or boughol. The name we are calling it here is the Armenian name we most likely use it because the grain was introduced here with the mass exodus of Armenians in the early 20th century.

  37. Lizzie

    Made this last night (and am currently eating some leftovers for lunch). It was/is delicious. I added some sliced avocado and roasted shrimp on top to fill it out even further and I think both add great textures to an already tasty salad. If I make it again I would cut back the cumin in the dressing as it’s a little overpowering for my taste. Agree with an earlier comment re: more lemon juice is better. Great recipe.

  38. I made this to bring over to my friends who just had a baby (along with chicken, potato salad and roast asparagus) and they could not stop raving about how good it was. Everyone just loved it, including my boyfriend who had never eaten a grain salad. I’m making it again tonight! Thank you so much, Deb!

  39. Eliza

    Simple and yummy. We had it with edamame to appease the kids. I’d make it again and get creative with the ingredients.

  40. Tricia

    Just finished a few bites of this salad which we made for the second time. The first time was pretty much by the recipe and it was good. This time we left out the cumin and used more lemon juice and it was much brighter and (can food be accessible?) more accessible. Okay, confessing here: we made more tweaks. We used whole wheat couscous instead of bulghur because that’s what we had. Also, we used a different brand of roasted red pepper. Last time the peppers were kind of insipid and droopy. This brand, Marzetti’s, is firm textured and tasty. The peppers really make a difference. Oh, and we used mint instead of parsley. But except for that it was exactly the same!

  41. Lauren

    Wonderful recipe! We subsituted fresh orange and red bell peppers for the roasted peppers and used green onion instead of red (personal preference). I also added some raisins to the mixture for a touch of sweetness. We ate it as a side dish on it’s own (no lettuce) and it was perfect! Love the dressing recipe. Thanks to Smitten Kitchen once again!!!

  42. This was SO good (AND easy!). We are huge cumin fanatics around here and this was perfect! I had never tried bulgur before and I really enjoyed it here! We used romaine instead of Bibb and skipped the pita. Thanks so much for the recipe, Deb!

  43. C

    Cook’s Illustrated has a technique (for tabbouleh) to soak the bulghur in lemon juice, which is fabulous. I’ll have to refresh my memory about the proportions. Part of the lemon juice goes to that, and the rest goes into the dressing. Hope to try this recipe before too long with that modification. Then it also would be a no-heat recipe (always welcome in humid summer weather).

  44. Melanie

    I realize this may be sacrilegious to say on your blog, but I am not a fan cumin. Something about it just does not do anything for me, I know it sounds horrible. Is there any other spice you would recommend substituting for the dressing?