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  • Turkish Radio Hour
    Oct 2, 2002
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      By Behzat Sahin

      Here is a recipe which is at least four thousand years old. Boil three
      cups of water in a saucepan and add one cup of bulgur (cracked wheat),
      a knob of butter and salt. Cook until the water is absorbed. This
      simple dish is extremely nourishing.

      Bulgur is widely used not only in Turkish cuisine but in all the
      cuisines of the Middle East. Bulgur is made by boiling whole wheat
      grains, then drying and grinding them into fine, medium or coarse
      pieces. This simple ingredient is the basis of many diverse and
      delicious dishes passed down and refined over the centuries. As well
      as ordinary daily meals, dishes made with bulgur feature at feasts for
      special occasions such as weddings and funerals. Indeed, it is
      impossible to imagine the Turkish cuisine without bulgur.Low in
      calories and high in minerals and fibre, bulgur makes a valuable
      contribution to the diet. At the same time it keeps well, not easily
      going mouldy or being spoilt by pests.

      No chemicals are used in its preparation, hence its growing popularity
      as a health food and in the vegetarian diet. Bulgur contains high
      levels of vitamin B, iron, phosphorus, and manganese. The benefits of
      bulgur were appreciated thousands of years before these scientific
      facts were known, however.Wheat itself was designated one of the five
      sacred crops by the Chinese emperor Shen Nung in 2800 BC, along with
      rice, millet, barley and soybeans.

      Bulgur is one of the first processed foods known to man, and was a
      favourite dish of the armies of the Mongol emperor Genghiz Khan
      (1162-1227). From the Bible we learn that the ancient Babylonians,
      Hittites and Hebrews were using some kind of bulgur four thousand
      years ago, and in 1000 BC the Egyptians and other peoples of the
      eastern Mediterranean region were still cooking and drying wheat.

      The Romans knew bulgur as cerealis, the Israelites as dagan and other
      Middle Eastern peoples as arisah, which is the term used in the Bible,
      where it is translated as 'the first of the coarse meal'.

      According to Biblical archaeologists, this early form of bulgur was
      parboiled and sun-dried wheat. The word bulgur has many variations,
      such as burghul, burghoul, balgour, and boulgur, and is word of very
      ancient origin. In the west today, bulgur is most often known by this
      Turkish form of the word.

      But aside from the ancient history of this processed form of wheat,
      itself first cultivated in this region, the recipes themselves show
      how deep-rooted and varied its use has been. This traditional food of
      Anatolia deserves to remain a popular feature of our tables, not only
      for health reasons, but for its flavour.

      * Behzat Sahin is a journalist.