Toasted Bulgur with spoon, Maureen Abood

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. Never too much.
The beauty of this dish is in its wonderful flavor and texture and it’s versatility. It’s delicious made with chicken (see the recipe here), or try most any vegetable you have on hand (red bell peppers or mushrooms, that sort thing)—but always include the onion. Make this vegan by replacing the butter with olive oil and using vegetable stock rather than chicken.
Serves: 8
  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 small sweet onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, divided
  • 2 cups coarse ground bulgur, #3
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  1. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into 4 spears, then cut those into ¼ inch wedges.
  2. In a medium sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the bulgur and stir until it is lightly toasted and fragrant, and the wheat 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.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the zucchini and onion. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter 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.
  4. When the wheat 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 serve immediately.


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8 Responses to "Toasted Bulgur Pilaf with Zucchini. Never too much."
  1. 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  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. 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?

  6. 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.

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