Vegetarian Bulghur Pilaf with Aubergine (Eggplant) Tahdig

I love aubergines and I think every other recipe I post has aubergines in it! But what’s there not to love about it? It’s delicious and nutritious. I’m not vegetarian, at least not yet, but have been trying to cut meat from our meals as much as I can. Using aubergines helps me balance the flavour of vegetarian dishes, on their own or with mushrooms for added protein.

My desire to eat less or no meat has led me to “invent” quite a few dishes that had not been in my repertoire before, including this delicious pilaf which I made a couple of weeks ago. It turned out even better than I had imagined and looked really good too.

Bulghur pilafs can be found in many of Iran’s regional cuisines. These recipes usually call for mixing bulghur with rice or lentils. There is also one made with noodles which is really delicious.

Since I was making this one with aubergine I decided to go for aubergine tahdig. What’s tahdig? Bear with me, I’m going to explain that right now.

Tahdig is a layer of crispy, golden rice (or other things) coming from the bottom of the rice pot. Iranians love this and there is usually a ritual of fighting over the tahdig at the table to determine who gets the biggest share. Bulghur is treated in the same way. Even pasta, but that’s another story!

Thin flatbread (lavash) crispened in the bottom of the rice pot (tahdig). This is only one of the many types of tahdig.

Making good tahdig, nicely coloured and crispy, is an art and the sign of the competency of a cook. Thin flatbread, potato slices or other sliced vegetables are often laid in the bottom of the pot (whatever we are making, rice, pasta, bulgur) for other kinds of tahdig. Aubergine is one of the tastiest.

The aubergine slices turned beautifully golden, caramelised and nicely soft with crispy bulghur surrounding the slices. yum yum! To make tahdig you need to use a non-stick coated or ceramic saucepan or pot. It’s really worth investing in a good one for cooking rice and pilafs. You get a nice crust and nothing is wasted. It’s easier to clean afterwards too.

Aubergine tahdig: Arrange thick slices in the bottom of the pot and cover with the cooked bulghur. Then steam long and slow.
Aubergine slices from the bottom of the pot of the bulghur pilaf. The whole thing is inverted on a plate like a cake.

Bulghur is cooked, pounded and dried wheat. It comes in different sizes. I used medium grain (coarse) to give texture to the pilaf. Finer bulghur is better suited for making salads.

Vegetarian may like to add a minty yoghurt and cucumber topping to this dish like I do. The ingredients and recipe are listed below.

So to make this lovely pilaf for four people you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil for frying the vegetables
  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 120 g brown or white mushrooms, quartered
  • 60 g sun-dried tomatoes in oil (drained and coarsely chopped)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp paprika (or mild Aleppo pepper)
  • 250 g coarse bulghur
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 600 ml boiling water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil for the bulghur (or 10 g butter)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil for the tahdig

For the yoghurt and cucumber topping (for non-vegans):

  • 200 ml  Greek-style or other thick yoghurt
  • 2 tsp dried mint, crushed
  • 1/2 large cucumber, chopped
  • Salt and black pepper (or chilli flakes) to taste


  1. Sauté the chopped onion with one tablespoon of the olive oil until it is lightly golden.
  2. Take four thick slices from the aubergine and cube the rest.
  3. Add the aubergine cubes and mushrooms to the onion with another tablespoon of the olive oil. Continue cooking for a few minutes until the aubergine is lightly golden on all sides. Add a tablespoon of hot water to the frying pan and cover. Cook for five minutes or until all the water is absorbed and the aubergine is cooked through.
  4. Add the garlic, spices and sun-dried tomatoes to the aubergine and cook for a couple of minutes again.
  5. Rinse the bulghur in a sieve. Put in a medium saucepan with the boiling water, one and one half tablespoon olive oil (or the butter) and 1 tsp salt. Bring to the boil. Cook for ten minutes. Add the vegetables to the bulghur when half the water is absorbed. Stir and continue cooking until all the water is absorbed.
  6. Put the olive oil for the tahdig in the bottom of a lidded non-stick coated saucepan. Put on the heat and wait until the oil is hot. Sprinkle a little salt over the aubergine slices and lay them in the pot. Pile the bulghur mixture on top of the aubergine slices and put the lid on. Cook on high for one minute (or until the side of the saucepan feels hot to the touch). Lower the heat to very low and cook for 30-40 minutes (depending on the size of the burner). Check the bulghur after twenty minutes. If steam is rising and you see some crispiness and colouring on the sides it’s time to take it off the heat.
  7. Meanwhile, mix the chopped cucumbers with yoghurt and mint. Correct the seasoning and set aside.
  8. Cover the saucepan with a large plate and holding tightly with both hands very carefully invert the saucepan and the plate to release the bulghur and tahdig onto the plate like a cake. Serve with the yoghurt and cucumber topping or a lemony chopped tomato and cucumber salad. Enjoy!

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