You can not talk about Turkish cuisine and not mention Bulgur Pilaf. If you have ever been there (or any other Middle Eastern or Mediterranean Country), you know this easy vegan side dish is a staple that we serve with almost all our meat dishes.

In this post I will show you how to make Bulgur pilaf (as we call Bulgur Pilavi) in two different ways. First, the classic Tomato Bulgur Pilaf and then second the version of it made with Bulgur Pilaf with Vermicelli.

Bulgur pilaf in a bowl with a spoon on the side

Before I continue talking about this Turkish bulgur dish, I recommend that you check out my post on What is Bulgur Wheat where I covered everything you need to know about different types of bulgur, where to purchase it, and how it is different from crack wheat.

And if you’d rather cook bulgur in a more basic way, feel free to check out the post I wrote on How To Prepare and Cook Bulgur like rice to learn how different types of bulgur are cooked differently (and why) along with other bulgur recipes to help you incorporate it in your daily cooking.

What Is Bulgur Pilaf?

Bulgur pilaf is a Turkish vegetarian (or vegan) side dish made by cooking bulgur with various vegetables, and water (or stock) on the stove top. With that being said, it is a staple in many other Middle Eastern countries including Lebanon and Syria.

In some circles, what we call bulgur pilaf is referred to as Turkish bulgur rice pilaf recipe as the method of cooking is very similar to cooking rice.

Ingredients:

Ingredients for the recipe on a marble countertop

To make this Turkish Bulgur Pilaf recipe, you will need:

  • Coarse Bulgur Wheat #3: While I used coarse bulgur wheat to make this recipe, both medium coarse #2 and extra coarse #4 would work in the recipe.
  • Tomato & Tomato Paste: One medium size tomato cut into small cubes should be fine. You can also use a cup of canned diced tomatoes.
  • Onion: Chopped
  • Green pepper: Seeded jalapeno or green (or any other color) bell peppers would both work.
  • Chickpeas: I used a can of chickpeas to add in a bit more plant-protein into the recipe.
  • Cooking Liquid: You can use both water or vegetable stock.
  • Spices: I used ground cumin with salt and pepper

How To Prepare Bulgur for Making Pilaf? Should I rinse it before cooking?

While there is nothing special that you need to do to prepare it for cooking, most people wonder whether or not to rinse bulgur wheat before cooking

You cannot go wrong either way. It is a personal preference.

Growing up my mother always rinsed bulgur before cooking. Nowadays, if I am buying packaged bulgur I usually skip rinsing it. 

The only time I rinse bulgur before cooking is if I am buying it from the bulk bin section of our grocery store as they might get dusty easily.

How To Rinse Bulgur Wheat?

If you decide to rinse it, simply place it in a fine mesh strainer, rinse under cold running water for 30-45 seconds, and drain it before adding into the pot.

How To Cook It in Turkish Style?

This Mediterranean Bulgur Wheat Pilaf recipe is truly easy and quick to make. Here is how you cook it:

person cooking onions in a pan
  1. Saute onion and tomato paste: Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in onion, green pepper, and saute until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add in tomato paste and stir constantly for a minute or so.
Person adding ingredients in the saucepan
  1. Add in the rest of the ingredients: Add in ground cumin, bulgur, tomatoes, chickpeas, and water (or stock). Season with salt and pepper.
person cooking bulgur pilav in a pan
  1. Stir & Bring it to a boil: Give it a stir, bring it to a boil, put the lid on, turn down the heat to low. Let it simmer for 10-12 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  2. Let it rest & serve: Off the heat, allow it to rest for 10 minutes (with the lid on), fluff it with a fork. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and serve.

If you can’t find coarse bulgur in your local supermarket, you can buy it on Amazon. This Turkish brand coarse bulgur (affiliate link) is the one I use and recommend.

Bulgur pilaf in a dutch oven with a wooden spoon the side.

Bulgur With Vermicelli – Mom’s Version

Bulgur pilaf with vermicelli was one of my mom’s signature dishes. While the bulgur pilaf made with tomato sauce is more of a traditional way of serving it, you can also make a more basic version with vermicelli. 

To cook Bulgur Pilaf with Vermicelli:

  1. Heat oil (or butter): You can use any oil but as it is usually the case, butter makes this pilaf taste better. Heat it in medium heat.
  2. Saute vermicelli: Add in the vermicelli and saute until it is golden brown. It should feel like it is almost burning. 
  3. Add in the coarse bulgur wheat: Add in bulgur and saute for 4-5 minutes while constantly stirring.
  4. Add in the liquid & bring it to a boil: Add in your cooking liquid (water, stock or a combination), salt and pepper and any vegetables (like I used in the recipe above) if you like. Give it a stir. Bring it to a boil, put the lid on, turn down the heat, and let it simmer for 12-15 minutes.
Bulgur with vermicelli in a dutch oven with a wooden spoon on the side

Don’t have vermicelli on hand? You can use orzo instead. No need to make any changes to the recipe or the way that it is cooked.

What Kind of Bulgur Wheat is Best? Can I cook this pilaf with other types of bulgur wheat?

Growing up, my mom always used coarse bulgur wheat (#3 or #4 & also known as pilavlik bulgur) to make this bulgur pilaf recipe. However, you can certainly make this dish using other types of bulgur, like fine bulgur (#1), red bulgur, or medium-coarse bulgur (#2).

The only difference would be the cooking time as listed below:

  • Fine bulgur – shorten cooking time by 3-4 minutes
  • Medium coarse bulgur – shorten cooking time by 2-3 minutes
  • Red Bulgur – treat it like it is medium-coarse bulgur and shorten cooking time by 2-3 minutes.

Do you feel confused about all these different kinds of bulgur? If you are new to cooking bulgur and adding it in your recipes, but don’t know which one to get, feel free to check out my post I wrote on Types of Bulgur Wheat.

I made sure to explain everything you need to know about shopping for and cooking with bulgur wheat to help you feel confident about bulgur wheat.

A bowl of bulgur pilaf garnished with herbs and served with a spoon on the side

Helpful Tips from My Mom’s Recipe Book:

My mom used to refer to these tips as “the secret to making the best bulgur pilaf recipe.” 

  1. Use butter: Even though you can certainly make bulgur pilaf with only vegetable oil, my mom thought that using butter was the key to a good-tasting pilaf. She used 2 tablespoons of butter per 1-cup of bulgur.
    With that being said, if you want to make a vegan version of this bulgur pilaf recipe, you can omit the butter and use only vegetable oil instead.
  2. Use boiling water and/or homemade stock: Instead of using cold (or room temperature) water, she would use boiling water to make the cooking process faster. Also, if we had it available, she would substitute 1 cup of the 2 cups of liquid with chicken or vegetable stock.
  3. Let it rest: This was another big step. Once all the liquid was absorbed, she would remove the lid, cover it with a paper towel, and put the lid back on to rest for at least 5-10 minutes before serving. Then she would fluff it with a fork, taste it for seasoning, and add more if necessary.

How To Freeze?

To freeze this bulgur pilaf recipe simply bring it to room temperature, place it in an airtight container, and freeze up to 2 months.

Thaw it a day in advance in the fridge and warm it up on the stove before you are ready to serve it.

What To Serve It With?

Traditionally, we serve this bulgur pilaf recipe as a side dish with chicken and meat dishes. However, below I do have some serving suggestions for those of you who are following a vegetarian diet as well.

As A Side Dish with Meat Dishes:

As A Vegetarian Dish With:

  • Tzatziki Sauce – A bowl of it on the side would be perfect
  • Yogurt Dressing – A drizzle of my yogurt salad dressing on top would be great
  • Cauliflower Curry – I use this simple bulgur pilaf recipe as a bedding for my favorite vegan recipe like this cauliflower curry recipe.

Other Recipes with Bulgur Wheat:

Turkish Bulgur Pilaf Recipe

5 from 15 votes
Yields4 servings (4 cups of cooked bulgur)
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time18 minutes
Resting Time10 minutes
Total Time28 minutes
Learn how to make the best Turkish bulgur pilaf recipe with tomatoes and vegetables.

Ingredients 

  • 2 tbsp oil, or butter
  • 1 onion, chopped, medium sized (approximately 1 cup)
  • 1 green pepper, seeded jalapeno or a small bell pepper would work (approximately 1/2 cup)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup coarse bulgur, both coarse and extra coarse bulgur would work for this recipe
  • 1 fresh tomato, cut into small cubes (approximately 1 cup)
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups water, boiling water (or you can use vegetable stock)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Garnishes

  • handful of Italian, or flat leaf parsley, chopped

Instructions 

  • Saute onion and tomato paste: Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in onion and green pepper and saute until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add in tomato paste and stir constantly for a minute or so.
  • Add in the rest of the ingredients: Add in ground cumin, bulgur, tomatoes, chickpeas, and water (or stock). Season with salt and pepper.
  • Stir & Bring it to a boil: Give it a stir, bring it to a boil, put the lid on, turn down the heat to low. Let it simmer for 10-12 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  • Let it rest & serve: Off the heat, allow it to rest for 10 minutes (with the lid on), fluff it with a fork, garnish with parsley, and serve.

Notes

  • Freezing Instructions: To freeze this bulgur pilaf recipe, simply bring it to room temperature, place it in an airtight container, and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw it a day in advance in the fridge and warm it up on the stove before you are ready to serve it.
  • An earlier version of this recipe included a more basic bulgur pilaf made without tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetables (onion, pepper, etc.) and chickpeas. It is how my mother made it. To cook Bulgur Pilaf with Vermicelli:
    1. Heat oil (or butter): Heat oil in medium heat.
    2. Saute vermicelli: Add in the vermicelli and saute until it is golden brown for 5-6 minutes while constantly stirring it with a wooden spoon. It should feel like it is almost burning. 
    3. Add in the coarse bulgur wheat: Add in bulgur and saute for 4-5 minutes while constantly stirring.
    4. Add in the liquid & bring it to a boil. Add in your cooking liquid (water, stock, or a combination), salt and pepper. Give it a stir. Bring it to a boil, put the lid on, turn down the heat, and let it simmer for 12-15 minutes.

Nutrition

Calories: 213kcal | Carbohydrates: 34g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 1g | Sodium: 661mg | Potassium: 401mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 499IU | Vitamin C: 32mg | Calcium: 37mg | Iron: 2mg

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

Additional Info

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Turkish Cuisine
Tried this recipe?Mention @foolproofliving or tag #foolproofeats!

Other Turkish recipes you might like:

This post was originally published in September 2015 and updated with additional helpful information in March 2020.

About Aysegul Sanford

Hello Friend! I'm Aysegul but you can call me “Ice." I’m the cook/recipe-tester/photographer behind this site.

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5 from 15 votes (5 ratings without comment)

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49 Comments

  1. This was a very touching post. Your mom will love on as long as you make her recipes. It’s a great homage to her. I bought some fine bulgur to make tabuleh salad and now have quite a bit left over. Do you have others recipes that call for fine bulgur? This recipe sounds great and I’m not sure if you would recommend using fine bulgur to make it with… any suggestions?

    1. Thanks for your kind message Dee. I believe she is my angel and watching over me all the time.
      I have a vegan chili recipe that uses medium bulgur, but you can use fine bulgur as well. I mean, if you read the post you’ll see that I recommend buying medium-grind, but I think it would still work.
      Sadly, I don’t have many other recipes using fine bulgur, which makes me think that I should start thinking about some recipes.
      Thanks for coming by.
      Cheers.

  2. I’ve just cooked it. It tastes very bland. I added less salt than recipe. Perhaps it will be ok when eaten with spicy chicken, tzikziki and salad. At least it’s very healthy!

  3. 5 stars
    Five stars for the full post and especially for the coarse bulgur and vermicelli recipe! The Northern Marmot

  4. 5 stars
    I have been making bulgar pilaf for about 45 years and this is the first time I have cooked it this way…it is FANTASTIC!!! It could be a meal in itself. Thank you and thanks to your sweet mom as well!!!

    1. Oh Jan,
      This makes me so happy. This was my mom’s recipe. She would serve it as a meal for us. Your sweet words made me so happy. I hope she also is smiling from wherever she is.
      Thank you ?

  5. 5 stars
    This post is so nice and I will cook as soon as possible.
    Plus I have a Turkish friend who likes this Bulgur Pilaf so much.
    He does not cook but your recipes are always Foolproof. It will be easy for him.
    Thanks for the nice photos and the story of Mum.
    Hope she is with you & us around and send her good wishes to all of us.

  6. 5 stars
    What a lovely post. Thanks for sharing. Hubby and I think the Bulgar Pilaf looks delicious. We will be trying it this weekend. Thanks for the fabulous recipe!

  7. 5 stars
    I completely agree with you on the vermicelli it’s a perfect pairing. Your Mom’s recipe is fabulous, thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. Thank you Melissa. I feel so grateful to be able to share her recipe on my blog. Thanks for stopping by.