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Cooking | Magazine

Recipes: Three new ways to love grains

Bulgur, couscous, and rice get a makeover with these international recipes.

Herbed bulgur pilaf with fried chickpeas .
Herbed bulgur pilaf with fried chickpeas .(Connie Miller of CB Creatives)

These recipes are part of a new partnership between Christopher Kimball and the cooks at Milk Street and the Globe Magazine’s Cooking column.

We love grains, but they can be a bit dull on their own. We discovered that cooks around the world solve this problem by turning to fresh herbs by the handful and adding texture with nuts, dried fruits, and more. We top our bulgur with crispy chickpeas spiced with paprika, while cumin provides a deep note that balances the freshness of the herbs. We boost the flavor of couscous by slightly undercooking it so that it better absorbs a paste of cilantro, parsley, and arugula. And we break Persian Jeweled Rice down to its essentials to create a saffron-scented, buttery side dish that is at once sweet, tart, salty, crunchy, and silky.

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Herbed Bulgur Pilaf With Fried Chickpeas

Makes 4 servings

Lemon, dill, and chives, added at the end, brighten the dish and complement the nuttiness of the grain. For textural contrast and a flavor accent, we finish the pilaf with canned chickpeas that are crisped in olive oil and tossed with cumin and smoked paprika.

Dry the chickpeas thoroughly with paper towels before coating them with cornstarch. Excess moisture will cause the oil to splatter and prevent the chickpeas from crisping.

2        tablespoons salted butter

3        large shallots, finely chopped

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1½    cups coarse bulgur

1         15½-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed, drained, and patted dry

2        tablespoons cornstarch

¼      cup extra-virgin olive oil

1         teaspoon ground cumin

1         teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

2        tablespoons lemon juice, plus lemon wedges, to serve

½      cup finely chopped fresh dill, divided

¼      cup finely chopped fresh chives

In a large saucepan over medium, melt the butter. Add the shallots and ½ teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the bulgur and cook, stirring constantly, until it has a nutty aroma, about 1 minute. Stir in 2¼ cups water and bring to a simmer over medium-high. Cover, reduce to medium-low, and cook until the bulgur is tender and has absorbed the liquid, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from the heat, uncover, and drape a kitchen towel over the pan. Replace the cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

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While the bulgur cooks, put the chickpeas in a medium bowl, sprinkle with the cornstarch, and toss. Transfer to a mesh strainer and shake to remove the excess cornstarch. In a 10-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add chickpeas and cook, stirring, until golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cumin, paprika, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.

Using a fork, fluff the bulgur. Stir in the lemon juice, half the dill, and the chives. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving plate and top with chickpeas and remaining dill. Serve with lemon wedges.

Herb and Pistachio Couscous

Makes 6 servings

Herb and pistachio couscous.
Herb and pistachio couscous. (Connie Miller of CB Creatives)

We solve the problem of bland couscous by cutting the amount of water used to soak it so it’s underhydrated — and better able to soak up flavors — and by pureeing the herbs into a zingy, oil-based paste to heighten their intensity. Inspired by a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, we pile on the herbs — two cups each of cilantro and flat-leaf parsley, plus two cups of arugula. We add currants as we douse the couscous in boiling water, which gives them time to plump and further reduces the amount of water available to the couscous. Jalapeños bring a spicy kick; we use pickled peppers, which have more consistent heat and give us brine for seasoning and acidity. Toasted pistachios and thinly sliced scallions add a finishing crunch.

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Don’t use Israeli couscous, which won’t hydrate sufficiently in this recipe.

1         cup couscous

3        tablespoons dried currants

½      teaspoon ground cumin

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

¾      cup boiling water

6        tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for serving

2        cups lightly packed cilantro leaves and tender stems

2        cups lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves

2        tablespoons finely chopped pickled jalapeños, plus 2 teaspoons brine

2        ounces baby arugula, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)

½      cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped

2        scallions, thinly sliced

In a large bowl, combine the couscous, currants, cumin, and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the boiling water and 1 tablespoon oil, then cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the cilantro, parsley, the remaining 5 tablespoons oil, jalapeño brine, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Process until a smooth paste forms, about 1 minute, scraping down the bowl 2 or 3 times.

Fluff the couscous with a fork, breaking up any large clumps, then stir in the herb paste until thoroughly combined. Fold in the jalapeños, arugula, pistachios, and scallions, then let sit for 10 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve at room temperature, drizzled with oil, if desired.

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Persian Jeweled Rice (Javaher Polow)

Makes 4 servings

Persian jeweled rice (javaher polow).
Persian jeweled rice (javaher polow).(Connie Miller of CB Creatives)

This rice pilaf is named for the colorful dried fruits and nuts that embellish the saffron-tinted basmati rice. Traditionally a labor-intensive dish, it adapts beautifully to a simplified version that’s visually stunning as well as richly, deeply flavorful.

We almost always toast nuts to enhance their taste and texture, but here raw pistachios are best, as they are more vivid in color and subtler in flavor than when toasted or roasted.

Don’t forget to rinse and drain the rice. Rinsing removes excess starch so the grains cook up fluffy and light.

1         teaspoon saffron threads

4        tablespoons (½ stick) salted butter

2        medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2        cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained

2        teaspoons ground cumin

1¾    teaspoons ground cardamom

2        medium carrots, peeled and shredded on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 cup)

1         cup dried cranberries

1         teaspoon finely grated orange zest

½      cup shelled pistachios, chopped, divided

In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine the saffron with 2„ cups water. Microwave on high until the water has taken on a yellow hue, about 1 minute; set aside.

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In a 12-inch skillet over medium, melt the butter. Add the onions and 2 teaspoons salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until they’ve softened and turned light golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the rice, cumin, cardamom, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are lightly browned and no longer translucent, 4 to 7 minutes. Stir in the saffron water, carrots, and cranberries. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then cover, reduce to low, and cook until the rice has absorbed the liquid and the carrots are tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Fluff the rice with a fork, then stir in the orange zest and ¼ cup pistachios. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a shallow bowl and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup pistachios.


Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.