Bulgar Risotto with Spinach and Parmesan

This dish blends the late summer veggies (that you might be getting bored with) with warm, cheesy, comforting fall food. I made this for my (husband’s) family one night recently, and several of them were with me as I threw it together. My mother in law said, “now what’s this?” with a politeness to her voice that belied her skepticism. My brother-in-law Tom just looked at it with one eyebrow raised. Pretty, this is not. It looks like scary, typical, “health-food”. I’ll tell you what though, mother-in-law asked for the recipe and Tom scraped the remnants sticking to the pot directly into his mouth. It tastes like risotto but is SO much better for you, and I’ll tell you why.

Risotto is the name of a finished Italian dish that uses arborio rice. It’s a fat grain of rice (did you know that rice is actually a seed, not a grain?) that is SUPER starchy and becomes creamy when cooked. White rice is fairly devoid of nutrients, and though this rice has a fancy name, it’s still white rice. When we substitute bulgar wheat, you get the tastiness of risotto but with a heartier, healthier grain.

Bulgar wheat is a cracked whole wheat kernel. It has more fiber and less calories than brown rice, but the two are similar in their slightly nutty flavor and chewy texture. I buy mine at my local Giant, but I’m fairly sure you can find it in the organic section of any grocery store. It stores at room temp and keeps a long time, so it’s worth looking into if you haven’t already. Quinoa gets all the fuss lately but in my house we eat bulgar a ton more because my husband and I both like the flavor so much better.

As a side dish for really any meat, this would serve 6 – if you’re looking for a meat free option this is a fairly good bet as the cheese and milk impart some solid protein (as a main it would serve 3 or 4). The other night I had oatmeal for dinner and realized, there’s something about digging into a huge bowl of warm food, and it’s nice when the calories are low as the quantity can be high. This risotto would be an excellent candidate for “large bowl of warm food” dinner.

Bulgar Risotto with Spinach and Parmesan

Serves 6

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 white or yellow onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 c. fresh or frozen corn

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. bulgar

2 c. skim or lowfat milk

10 oz. fresh baby spinach

1/2 c. parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

1. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat.

2. Add onion, pepper, corn, and salt. Saute about 8 minutes or until tender.

3. Add bulger and stir to combine.

4. Add milk and bring mixture to a boil. As soon as it boils, reduce heat to low and let mixture simmer until milk is absorbed and bulgar is tender. Taste the bulgar – it should be chewy and tender, not hard. If it is hard, add some more milk or water, about 1/4 c. at a time, and let simmer until you taste tender bulgar. 

5. Add spinach and stir until it wilts. Add parmesan cheese and stir.

6. Plate and top with more cheese, as desired.

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