Bulgur rice with chestnuts

Let’s keep our hopes up in 2021!

Every year without a fail, I get depressed on New Year’s Day. I don’t really know why, but no matter where I am or how wonderful I had spent the previous night, this has been my routine. I guess I get sad when things are over and ‘a year’ may be one of those things.

Well… you might ask whether I got sad that 2020 was over? I wish I could say ‘hell no!’ but I did, not because 2020 was over because 2021 looked and felt exactly the same in terms of our lives regarding COVID19 so I guess this year I was depressed for other reasons.

Oh well enough with depression! Do you know what is the best cure for depression? Well for me it’s cooking. So I cooked on the first few days of the week and I baked a couple of new things that might actually cause me to make peace with yeast breads altogether but that is for another blog post.

Usually in my family, for New Year’s Eve, we make a huge spread consisting of cheese platter, charcuterie board, olives, a variety of homemade pickles, a couple of salads and celeriac cooked in olive oil, and another olive oil dish with some other seasonal vegetable. For the main course we will have chicken on turkey, preferably baked and a big pot of rice pilaf which we call in Turkish as ‘iç pilav’ which can be loosely translated as stuffing rice, containing; chestnuts, currants, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper and salt.

This year we opted to eat this dinner in instalments over three days. Because we were in lockdown for four days and we were not going to have any chance of moving around in terms of exercise we decided that the smart thing to do was to not stuff our faces. So on December 31st we had a cheese and charcuterie board, green olives, stuffed cabbage leaves and beetroot pickles accompanied by homemade rye crackers and butter bread (a specialty bread from Turkey). On January 1st we had a spinach salad dressed with pomegranate molasses and baked leg of turkey, which we basically ate like cavemen:).

Finally on the 3rd we had our rice, but this time it was bulgur rice with chestnuts, a favorite of Sultan Mehmet, the one who conquered Istanbul in 1453.  This has got to be one of the best bulgur pilaf recipes invented and thanks to my favorite Ottoman food historian Marianna Yerasimos’s book we can remake this dish exactly how it was made in the palace.

On this final feast day I ate that bulgur pilaf with the intention of conquering 2021 by keeping my hopes up and working harder than ever. I have a feeling that this year may have some good things stored up for me 😉

A Bulgur pilaf fit for the Sultans in other words Chestnut Bulgur Pilaf
Adapted from 500 Years of Ottoman Cuisine by Marianna Yerasimos

I should mention that this is not a side dish but a main meal so these portions may be suitable for 4-5 people

3 cups bulgur pilaf, do not rinse or wash
6 cups water / chicken stock / beef stock / vegetable stock
200 gr (7 oz) chestnuts, boiled, shells and skin removed, cut into large chunks
2 yellow onions, medium size, finely chopped
4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp raisins
2 tsp allspice powder
3 tsp cumin powder
1 bunch dill, only the leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tsp salt (you may need to adjust this based on your regular salt intake or the type of salt you use)

Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a large pot, add the onions and sauté over medium heat until translucent and softened. Then add the liquid of choice (from the above list), together with rest of the 2 tbsp butter, raisins, allspice, cumin and salt.
Once the liquid comes to a boil add the bulgur and chestnuts, mix a few times, turn up the heat, cook for 3-5 minutes then lower the heat. Cover and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.
Turn off the heat, add the chopped dill into the bulgur pilaf then cover with a paper towel and the lid and rest for 15 minutes. Once done resting take the paper towel and lid off, give the bulgur pilaf a gentle mix so the dill is evenly distributed and serve immediately. Afiyet olsun!

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