In the Kitchen: Bulgur, Tomato, and Cheese Casserole

Random Photo Series 2015

Random Photo Series 2015

When I can’t “see” a recipe in my mind, the results are usually a disaster. Which is what I expected last night, when I made this sort-of-odd casserole. I couldn't . . . see how it would turn out.

Surprise! It was delicious, stunningly so.

Here’s the original recipe as it appeared in the New York Times. Below is my streamlined (because I’m lazy) version.


Bulgur, Spinach, and Tomato Casserole

  • 1 c. bulgur. The recipe called for #3 (coarse) bulgur. I have no idea if that’s what I used. I used what I had on hand.
  • a couple of strips of bacon (or not)
  • 28-oz. canned tomatoes
  • couple of cloves of garlic, chopped or pressed
  • 12-oz bag of spinach, or whatever greens. I had a 6-oz bag of spinach, so I added in a couple of big leaves of kale (which I boiled first for about ten minutes) (The kale, not the spinach.)
  • 1 can garbanzo/chickpeas, drained and rinsed. 
  • half cup or so of cheese. I had some Emmenthaler and a soft cheddar on hand, so that’s what I used.

Oven to 350.

Boil 2 cups of water and add the bulgur. Cover and cook on low for about fifteen minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Let it sit off heat for another ten or fifteen minutes. Then gently transfer to a largish bowl (one big enough to hold the bulgar, the greens, and the chickpeas).

I used a 10” cast iron pan for the rest of this dish, but you can cook the cookables in a pan and then transfer all the ingredients to a “casserole” dish for baking.

Random Photo Series 2015

Random Photo Series 2015

Heat the pan, and when it's hot, add the spinach and a splash of water. Toss the greens around with your tongs or two big forks; the steam and the heat of the pan's bottom will cook the greens. (Note: If you decide to use kale or chard or whatever, plan accordingly. You may want to parboil them first. Their flavor is often bitter.)

Remove the spinach and let it cool until you can handle it. Then squeeze the heck out of it, one handful at a time. The goal is to get rid of all that water. 

Add the bacon to the pan and cook until crisp. Remove and drain the grease from the pan.

If the tomatoes are whole, chop ‘em up. (Easy method: while they’re still in the can, stick a big knife into the can and use the blade to cut the tomatoes. Or just dump them in the pan whole and mash them around.)

Put a tiny bit of oil (whatever kind, including a bit of the bacon fat) in the hot pan and add the tomatoes. Stir them around, making sure you don’t scorch them. Add the garlic and stir. Add salt and pepper, a dollop of cinnamon and allspice (or not; don’t sweat if you don’t have either). Let it cook gently so the tomatoes lose what’s left of their “raw” flavor and the sauce is slightly thickened. But don’t burn it.

Random Photo Series 2015

Random Photo Series 2015

Assuming the spinach is cooled and squished dry, gently toss that into the bulgar. (Use a couple of forks, the larger the better.) Add the chickpeas, tossing gently to mix. Then the bacon, which you've broken into bits, and finally, about a half cup of the tomato sauce.

If you’re using the same pan, transfer the rest of the sauce to a separate bowl. If you’re using a baking dish, oil it. Spread the bulgur mixture on the bottom of the pan/dish. Gently pour and spread the rest of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the cheese over the top.

Bake about 30 minutes. Let it sit another five or ten. Delicious!