Bulgur and cracked wheat are staples of the Sephardic Turkish kitchen and are used in Greece as well, primarily in soups. Cracked wheat is whole wheat berries that have been crushed with steel blades. Bulgur is wheat berries that have been steamed, dried, and then crushed. American markets are not always careful about labeling these two products, but either one will work in this recipe.
Most recipes for wheat pilaf cook the grain as if it were rice, steaming it in stock to cover. More often than not this results in a mixture that is heavy and soggy, with the grains sticking together. To have the wheat dry out properly, start cooking it in the same manner as you cook risotto, then finish it in the oven.
Warm the margarine or olive oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and a sprinkling of salt and sauté until the onion is tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the bulgur or cracked wheat and stir until the grains are well coated with the fat, about 3 minutes. Add half of the hot chicken stock or water, reduce the heat to low, and stir until the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining liquid, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly, and cook for 15 minutes.
Uncover, transfer the pilaf to a baking dish, and place in the oven.
Remove from the oven and fold in one of the garnishes, if desired. Serve directly from the dish.
© 2000 Joyce Goldstein. All rights reserved.