Most Read: Lifestyle

All We Can Eat
Posted at 02:00 PM ET, 09/19/2011

The Family Dish: Bulgur by the bowlful

Bulgur-Lentil Soup With Minted Olive Oil Butter. (Domenica Marchetti)
Some members of our family (my daughter and I) like soup more than the others (my husband and son). Does that keep me from from making soup for dinner?

No way.

It just means that I look for soup recipes that are likely to appeal to all, or at least most, of us. In general around here, vegetable purees are met with something less than enthusiasm; thick and chunky is much preferred, though meat doesn’t necessarily have to be part of the mix.

When I find one that makes us all happy, I hang on to it. Or at least I try to do so.

A few years ago I bought a cookbook called “The Sultan’s Kitchen,” by Turkish chef Ozcan Ozan. I’ve made a lot of recipes from it but the one I returned to most often was a thick, fragrant soup with red lentils and bulgur (cracked wheat), flavored with tomato, hot pepper and mint. It was substantial enough to be a main course for my daughter and me, and an accompaniment to grilled sausages for the boys.

One day, I loaned the book to someone — alas, I can’t remember whom — and have not seen it since. I still miss it. (Whoever you are, may I please have it back?) But in a serendipitous turn of events, I found a very similar recipe the other day as I was paging through “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals,” by Maria Speck.

Maria and I became friends when she was living in the Washington area. Now in New England, she has long been a passionate advocate of cooking with whole grains. Her book is full of recipes that showcase a wide variety of them.

However, I have a particular fondness for bulgur that dates to my teen years, when I discovered tabbouleh salad. The grain has a satisfyingly chewy texture and a soft, earthy flavor.

It adds heft to this soup, which is good to make on a weeknight, as the whole thing can be done in less than an hour. Be sure to make the minted olive oil butter to drizzle over the top of the finished soup; it is more than just a garnish. It adds an essential bright note.

Serve the soup as a main course (to soup lovers) and alongside grilled sausages (to the carnivores in your life).

See the recipe after the jump.

Domenica Marchetti is the author of “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” (Chronicle, June 2011) as well as “The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy” (Chronicle, 2006) and “Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style” (Chronicle 2008). She blogs at

Bulgur-Lentil Soup With Minted Olive Oil Butter

6 servings

For the soup

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/4<XA>-inch dice (a generous 1 cup)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika or 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (see headnote)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh or diced, canned tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted (one 14-ounce can)

1/2 cup coarse bulgur

1/2 cup split red lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth

3 cups water

1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the minted butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 teaspoons dried spearmint

Pinch cayenne pepper or 1/8 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

For the soup: Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat, just until the oil shimmers. Add the butter and wait until its foam almost subsides, then add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and turns light golden. Add the garlic, paprika or Aleppo pepper and the cayenne pepper, if desired; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and tomatoes; adjust the heat as needed to maintain steady bubbles at the edges. Cook uncovered for about 3 minutes, stirring once or twice and scraping the bottom to release any browned bits, until the mixture thickens slightly.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Stir in the bulgur, lentils, broth, water and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low to maintain gentle bubbling. Cover and cook for 25 to 40 minutes, until the soup thickens, with the bulgur retaining a slight bite. Season with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and the black pepper. Taste and add lemon juice (up to 1 more tablespoon) or adjust the seasoning as needed. Cover and let sit for a few minutes.

While the soup rests, make the minted butter: Heat the oil and butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the mint and cayenne or Aleppo pepper (which will sizzle) and stir for about 15 seconds until fragrant. Immediately remove from the heat; pour the minted olive oil butter into a small serving bowl.

Divide the soup among individual bowls. Drizzle a little of the minted butter on top of each portion. Serve right away.

By Domenica Marchetti  |  02:00 PM ET, 09/19/2011

Read what others are saying

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company