Bulgur & Black Bean Stew

Sometimes the only thing that will do is stew.  Particularly when mid-June, yet the thermometer reads 3 degrees Celsius and something halfway between rain and snow is slushing on outside.  Then there’s also that one-pot meals make for less dishes which is an added bonus.  Regardless, this unlikely (read heretical) combination of ingredients makes for a bowl of pure warmth and comfort on any day.

Tangent: should you feel particularly ambitious, do consider making your own bulgur as the flavor and aroma leave the store bought stuff far back in the dust.  There’s instructions on doing that in Rebecca Wood’s  book,  The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia.

Yield: 4 servings

What you need:

  • 3 small onions, cut into wedges lengthwise
  • 2 small rutabagas, cut into wedges lengthwise, about 3 cups
  • 2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, grated or minced
  • a stick of lemongrass, cut into three pieces and bruised using the back of your knife
  • 1/2 cup bulgur wheat
  • 4 cups crushed tomatoes (home-canned preferred), you can run them through a blender if you want a smooth sauce as shown here; if chunky tomato bits work for you, feel free to leave ’em as is
  • water, about 2 cups total, divided
  • 2 tablespoons red Thai curry paste (or more, up to 1/4 cup if you real want kick)
  • 2 tablespoons natural (unsweetened) peanut butter, organic preferred
  • 2 cups cooked black beans (or any other large bean, kidney beans or chickpeas would work well)
  • salt

What you do:

  1. Heat a Dutch oven or large thick-bottomed pot over medium-high heat.  When good and hot, turn the heat down to medium and add the onions and rutabagas.  Stir and fry until golden to darkening.  If you use/want any added oil, this is the time to use it (in which case do everything on medium and I suggest virgin sesame oil!).  If you’re dry-frying with no added oil, then once things start to darken and stick, 4-5 minutes in, add splashes of warm water to deglaze the pan and keep things moving.  Once the yummy bits are scraped up, add about 1/3 cup of water and lower the heat a little, simmering it down, scraping, simmering, so all the caramelization makes its way back into the vegetables.
  2. Moving on from my eternal explanation above, as the pan dries, add the grated garlic and lemongrass.  Stir until fragrant, a minute or so.  Add the bulgur and toss it throughout so that it coats all the vegetables evenly.
  3. Add the crushed tomatoes and black beans.  Bring to a boil.
  4. As the pot of stew comes to a boil, put the Thai curry paste and peanut butter in a large measuring cup.  Add a bit of hot water and whisk/mash until the mixture is smooth and even.  Add more water and whisk some more.  Add water up to the 1-2/3 cup mark on the measuring cup.  Whisk well.
  5. The pot of stew should be boiling now.  Whisk in the water/curry paste/peanut butter mixture.  Taste.  Blow and wait longer than you think you have to so you don’t burn your tongue.  Now add salt to desired level.  Mix again, cover the stew, turn the heat to low or medium-low and let it all simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until the bulgur is cooked, the sauce is thick and reduced and the rutabaga is fork tender (or toothier if you want a bit of textural contrast instead of all things soft and mushable).
  6. Turn off the heat, let cool 10 minutes or so and serve.


  • Make it gluten-free by replacing the bulgur by quinoa!

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