Bulgur Chili

In this bulgar chili recipe, bulgur takes the place of the usual meat. Beans aren’t essential, though they can easily be incorporated (see the Vegetarian Chili Variations below). All sorts of vegetables can also be incorporated, including corn, zucchini, squash, carrots, celery, and more. Just toss them in along with the chiles. Like most stews, this one will actually taste better the next day, which makes it a super make-ahead dish.–Mark Bittman

LC Bittman on Bulgur Note

Bulgur has a rather nutty awesomeness that works quite well in this—and many—recipes, although author Mark Bittman has also made this chili recipe by replacing the bulgur with just about any cooked whole grain, including cooked wheat, rye, kamut, spelt, hominy, and millet. The choice is yours. (He notes that if using an alternate cooked grain, adjust the stock or water to just 2 cups.)

Bulgur Chili Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 1 H, 25 M
  • Serves 6 to 8


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, any color, cored, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons store-bought or homemade tomato paste
  • 2 to 4 cascabel, guajillo, ancho, or other dried hot red peppers, soaked, cleaned, and chopped
  • 3 cups chopped ripe tomato (about 1 1/2 pounds whole or canned; don’t bother to drain)
  • 1 quart vegetable stock, chile-soaking liquid, or water
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup fine- or medium-grind bulgur
  • Sliced scallion, chopped cilantro leaves, grated Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, and sour cream, for garnish


  • 1. Warm the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell peppers, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.
  • 2. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, still stirring constantly, until it’s evenly distributed and begins to color, which ought to take just a minute or two. Add the chiles, tomato, stock, chili powder, and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down so the mixture bubbles gently. Cook just like this, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.
  • 3. Stir in the bulgur and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit until the bulgur is tender, about 15 minutes.
  • 4. Ladle the bulgur chili into bowls and garnish as you like. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Vegetarian Chili Variations

  • Bulgur Chili with Beans
  • Add 2 to 3 cups cooked or canned, drained kidney, pinto, black, or other beans.
  • Smoky Hot Bulgur Chili
  • Add 2 to 4 minced canned chipotle chiles—along with the adobo sauce that clings to them—at the end of step 1.
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Recipe Testers Reviews

Ellen Fuss

May 07, 2007

In my house, it’s Meat-Free Monday and then No-Tofu Tuesday. I always feel so virtuous when I make vegetarian meals, especially those that aren’t laden with high-fat dairy products. This bulgur chili is a tasty, satisfying variation on chili, not the usual beans and spice, but a nice blend of vegetables and bulgur. The bulgur gives the chili a satisfying “chew” as well as protein and fiber. The dried chiles amp up the flavor and the variations give an opportunity to get creative and use up whatever other ingredients are around. This one-pot supper was a winner in my house. And it was thicker and tastes even better the day after. None of the peppers listed were available in my suburban supermarket, so I used just one Tien Tsin pepper and it actually gave the dish a good, hot flavor. Instead of fresh tomatoes I used a container of chopped tomatoes, which are my new go-to to avoid the harsh chemical taste in some canned brands. As for fine or medium bulgur, I used what I had on hand, which was Bob’s Red Mill Quick Cooking Bulgur (no mention of fine or medium.) It was cooked perfectly at the end of the cooking time. I used Anaheim chile powder—the pure kind, without any cumin, salt, or other flavorings. I did add white beans, just because I like them, and celery, carrots, and mushrooms, since the recipe said that any vegetable would be good and I was anxious to clean out my vegetable drawer.

Elsa M. Jacobson

May 07, 2007

This bulgur chili is fast, tasty, and nutritious, plus it's vegetarian. The idea of using bulgur in vegetarian chili is quintessentially creative Mark Bittman, an idea person if ever there was one. It’s a great idea I’ve not seen before. The bulgur provided a nice chewy texture, without using any fake processed “meat” products. I made a straightforward version on my first rendition, with red bell peppers and vegetable stock and generic hot red peppers we had in a jar. I’m not certain what type of hot pepper they were. I thought they were very hot, but they dissipated into my pot of chili which was quite mild when finished—too mild for my taste. I like the idea of the Smoky Hot Bulgur Chili variation, which I’d definitely try in the future. I also think the inclusion of beans would add not only nutritional value but taste and texture, so I’d mix the Bulgur Chili with Beans variation and the Smoky Hot Bulgur Chili variation together. Though the bulgur was terrific, I’m game to try some of his other grain ideas, especially millet, which I like but have few successful recipes that incorporate this grain. This recipe has garnishes aplenty, and all of his suggestions merit inclusion, but the chili was tasty solo as well. And, yes, this was better a couple days following the day it was made, so it’s a great make-ahead dish. Note that this whole book is full of creative vegetarian dishes, recipes with lots of interesting ingredients in the main rendition, and then lots of optional variations for further experimentation.

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