This recipe of bulgur wheat risotto with smoked prunes has had a few changes made over the years. It has a strong Persian influence, and it is one of Romanians favourite dishes during Lent.
Initially, this dish is more like a pilau, where the long-rice grains are fried before the stock is added. The prunes are smoked and added to the rice to simmer together for 1 hour or so. The ratio is usually more prunes than rice.
In the south-west of Romania, plum trees and plums are like olive tress in Greece: everywhere, and dominating the cuisine. The climate is dry and hot, making the plums very sweet and packed with flavour. It is also ideal for drying the fruits – so dried plums, and sometimes smoked, were quite a skilful job.
In this part of the country, the recipe for this dish is also made with a little caramelised sugar, adding stock and the rest of the ingredients just before it turns dark. I’ve used this technique in another recipe, Quince and Chicken Traybake (see here)
For this version of the prune risotto, I preferred a drier mix, with no caramelised sugar, and because I don’t usually eat rice, I used one of my favourite grains: bulgur wheat. It gives a beautiful nutty flavour, that matches perfectly the sweetness and the mild smokiness of the prunes.
This is how you make it:
200g bulgur wheat
1 bunch of thyme
First smoke the prunes. Use the standard grill tray in your oven. Remove the rack and cover it with kitchen foil. Place a bunch of thyme and a little piece of instant fire lighter in the middle. Prepare a sheet of baking paper to go on top of the rack. Pierce the baking paper all over using a small knife.
Light the thyme and quickly place the rack on top, add the baking paper and place the prunes on top of the paper. Wrap everything in kitchen foil and leave for 10 minutes. The prunes should have a lovely smoky flavour.
Prepare the risotto: bring the bulgur wheat and the water to a boil. Add the smoked prunes and simmer gently for 15 minutes, keeping an eye on it. Add more water if it gets too dry. When the bulgur wheat is cooked, add the butter and stir well.