Turkish Bulgur Pilaf with Lamb and Silverbeet

I first ate this in Turkey a few years ago in a beautiful tiny village of Soğanlı in Cappadocia. In between fending off the onslaught of villagers running from the mountains to sell us dolls, and being uncomfortably felt up having my picture taken with a local, this dish came as a welcome relief. It was a surprisingly flavourful treat and deceptively filling. The Turks love bulgur – they eat it in soups, salads, meatballs and all manner of stews. The coarse bulgur, which is used in this recipe, is a great substitute for rice and imparts a delicious nutty flavour to the overall dish. It’s absolutely delicious.

800g lean lamb steaks (cut into 3cm cubes)
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon tomato puree
1 large onion (thinly sliced)
4 cups silverbeet (leaves & stems separated – both chopped)
2 tablespoons fresh mint (chopped)
2 cups coarse bulgur wheat
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup shelled pistachio nuts (roughly chopped)
½ teaspoon chilli powder

Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a casserole pan and fry the lamb pieces for 5 minutes until nicely browned. Add 1 teaspoon of the cumin and the tomato puree then pour in 1.25 litres of water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered for 1 hour.

Remove the meat from the liquid then pour 750ml of the stock into a measuring jug. Discard the rest.

Wipe the pan clean then heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over a moderate heat – add the onions and silverbeet stalks then fry gently for 5 minutes until soft and golden. Add the silverbeet leaves, mint leaves, the remaining 1 teaspoon of cumin, the chilli powder and salt & pepper and stir for 1-2 minutes until wilted. Return the lamb to the pan along with the bulgur, stock and half the pistachios and stir well. Let it come to a simmer then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat – open the pan and sprinkle over the remaining pistachios. Place a tea towel and return the lid to catch any residual steam- leave for 15 minutes before serving.

I served mine with a simple mint yoghurt sauce which suited the dish absolutely perfectly. Simply crush a large handful of fresh mint leaves with ½ teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar in a pestle and mortar until pulped then stir in 3 heaped tablespoons of yoghurt and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

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