This pilaf is often made not with plain bulgur (hondros in Crete) but with xynohondros, the traditional tangy ‘pasta’ of Crete, which is prepared early in the summer by simmering cracked wheat in goat’s milk that has been left to sour for 3-4 days. Tablespoons of the porridge-like mixture are spread on cloths and left in the sun, turned over a few times, until bone-dry. Usually the pieces are crumbled before drying completely, to facilitate the cooking. Kept in cloth bags xynohondros is used all year round for pilafs, soups, and added to stews with vegetables, meat or poultry.
To imitate the xynohondros flavor I suggest you serve the pilaf with dollops of yogurt and/or crumbled feta.
I developed this recipe for EATING WELL magazine;
part of a piece about the healthy Cooking of Crete (March 2020).
Makes 4 servings
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for the eggplant
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 green bell pepper seeded, quartered and cut in ¼ inch strips
1 1/2 cups coarse bulgur (see NOTE 1)
½ cup white wine
3 cups chopped ripe tomatoes, or best quality canned plum tomatoes with their juice (see NOTE 2)
Salt to taste
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or a good pinch red pepper flakes
About 1 1/2 cups water or Vegetable Stock, as needed
1 medium round eggplant (2/3 – 1 pound) cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup crumbled feta cheese, or thick yogurt for serving
In a large saucepan, heat the oil and sauté the onions over medium-high heat for 2 minutes; toss, then reduce the heat to very low, cover the pan and cook for another 6-8 minutes, or until very soft. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the bulgur and the pepper and sauté, stirring for 3 minutes, until well coated with oil. Add the wine, toss and pour the tomatoes into the pan. Cook for 3 minutes on high heat, add 2 cups of water or stock and 1 teaspoon salt, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 6 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare the eggplant: Preheat the oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the diced eggplant in a bowl and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt, then drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil.
Spread on the baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes, or until golden, and somewhat shrunk.
Taste the bulgur and add a little more water or stock if needed, cook for another 5 to 8 minutes, or until tender. Remove from the heat, stir in the eggplants, and half the mint, taste, and adjust the seasonings. Let stand, covered for 3 minutes.
Serve sprinkling with the rest of the mint, and drizzling with olive oil, and dollops of yogurt and/or feta on the side, if you like.
Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
NOTE 1: I often like to toast bulgur in a dry pan for a few minutes, until fragrant and starting to color, before making my bulgur pilafs. Transfer toasted bulgur to a bowl and et the pan cool somewhat before you sauté the onions.
NOTE 2: Tomatoes in this dish are not just a broth or sauce, but one of the vegetables that give it texture as well as flavor. We dice the ripe tomatoes without seeding or peeling them. If you use canned tomatoes choose THE best, and consider adding just 2 ½ cups, boosting the flavor with 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes, which are usually good all year-round.