The Mediterranean diet, a meal plan that emphasizes fresh produce, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats has proven to not only prevent diseases such heart disease and cancer, but those who eat this way are also at a decreased risk for depression, dementia, and weight gain. My mom is Armenian, so I was raised on this style of eating, and as it turns out, many of my childhood favorite dishes are naturally vegan, including this holiday favorite, Eetch.
Eetch is a chewy, cooked grain salad made with bulgur wheat, roasted red pepper, tomatoes and onions. I was first introduced to this while visiting my Armenian relatives in Philly for Easter one year, and at first bite I thought I was eating meat because it had such a rich flavor. Now that I don’t eat meat, and remembering my first impression, I love serving it to my carnivore friends and family, and throwing in the “it’s vegan” after they’ve already raved about how much they love it 😉.
Bulgur, the main ingredient in Eetch, pleasantly surprised the first time I learned its nutritional breakdown- thinking since it was such a complex grain it would be very caloric, yet it actually contains less calories per cup than white rice, brown rice, and quinoa! 1 cup of cooked bulgur is approximately 151 calories, .5g fat, 34g carbs (8g fiber, 26g net), and 6g protein. Bulgur’s most dense nutrient is manganese, packing over 50% of your daily need per cup, which is great for skin health (because it helps produce collagen), bone health, and helps stabilize blood sugar. Another bonus for me is it provides 15% of my daily magnesium and 10% of iron, two minerals I always have to consciously consume since I’m so active and don’t eat meat.
When you’re ready to make this dish, you’ll start by sautéing the onions in olive oil until they start to turn light golden, as they are below (don’t mind the few pieces of onion skin that found their way into my batch 😉). I love the flavor well-done/caramelized onions gives to food, so feel free to take your time with this step.
Next, the recipe calls for red pepper paste. However, I often go to make this *thinking* I have a tube of it in my fridge and end up not, so I’ve created a substitute that works just fine for me. Simply grind a roasted red pepper in the food processor until mostly smooth, and spoon your heaping 2 tablespoons (which ends up being more like a 1/4 cup) into the dish. Save the rest of this pureed pepper to make hummus, soup, or another sauce.
Stir everything together as if you’re making a pasta sauce, and let this simmer for 5 minutes.
Next, you’ll add in the bulgur and remaining onion, but before you do, be sure to rinse the grain really well. I’m typically not one to be picky about rinsing food I’m going to cook, but I’ve found this grain will cause major bloating in my body when not rinsed, so I recommend everyone does this step.
After all the ingredients are mixed in, cover the pan and let it simmer for 30 minutes untouched. Then you’ll pour the eetch in to a 9×13 pan, chill, and garnish before serving.
Since this is a cold grain dish, it’s perfect to make at the beginning of the week to eat over vegetables as a salad, along a main course as a side dish, or as an appetizer using crudité or pita bread for dipping.
Here is the recipe my family uses, be sure to take lots of pictures and let me know what you think once you make this!
2 medium onions, minced
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil*
2 heaping tablespoons of red pepper paste**
1- 28 ounce can crushed tomato
1- 6 ounce can tomato paste
1 large lemon, juiced
2 tsps sea salt, more or less to taste
Red pepper flakes, to taste
1 cup water
2 cups fine bulgur
1 medium onion, minced
Green onion, 1 bunch
Parsley, half a bunch
Red pepper, 1 whole
Heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil, then add the two onions, cooking until light golden. Add the pepper paste, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, lemon, salt and pepper, allow to simmer 5 minutes. Add the water, bulgur, and remaining onion. Stir everything together, cover the pan, and allow to simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat, and transfer to a 9×13 dish. (The consistency should be like oatmeal). Refrigerate, then garnish before serving with green onion, parsley and fresh red pepper.
*The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of olive oil, which seems like a lot when you pour it in the pan, but, some will be cooked off, and this recipe makes a large amount, so when broken down per serving, it’s likely you’d only be consuming a teaspoon of oil. You can reduce to 1/3 cup if you’d like, but I wouldn’t go lower than that.
**If you don’t have red pepper paste, simply use ground roasted red pepper as noted above.