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Bulgar and spinach pilaf with labneh and chilli roast tomatoes

Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a side dish.

This Turkish dish has layers of flavour and texture – nutty bulgar wheat, hot, sweet tomatoes, chunks of cool labneh and cinnamon onions. It is great with lamb or as a vegetarian main course.


For the pilaf

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 60ml (4 tbsp) olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 175g (6oz) bulgar wheat
  • 300ml (10fl oz) chicken or vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 300g (10 ½oz) spinach
  • leaves from a small bunch of mint, torn

for the labneh

  • 400g Greek Yoghurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • salt and pepper


  1. To make the labneh, start the day before. Just line a sieve with a bit of cheesecloth and set it over a small bowl. Put the yoghurt into the cheesecloth and refrigerate the whole thing. The yoghurt will lose a bit of excess moisture over the next 24 hours, leaving you with a firmer mixture, a bit like cream cheese. Help it by giving it a bit of a squeeze once or twice.
  2. Tumble the drained yoghurt into a bowl. Add the garlic, a little salt and pepper and mash it all together. Cover and put the labneh in the fridge until you need it.
  3. Halve the tomatoes lengthways and put them in a small roasting tin or ovenproof dish. Mix together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, harissa and some salt and pepper, and pour this over the tomatoes. Turn them over, making sure they get coated, ending with them cut-side-up. Sprinkle the soft brown sugar over the top and put in an oven preheated to 180°c (350°f) Gas mark 4. Cook for 40-45 minutes, until the tomatoes are shrunken and sweet. They can either be hot or at room temperature when you add them to the pilaf, so you could do this bit in advance.
  4. For the pilaf, sauté the chopped onion in half the olive oil in a fairly heavy-bottomed pan. When the onion is soft and translucent, add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Tip the bulgar into the pan, pour on the stock and season. Bring up to the boil, then turn down the heat and let the bulgar simmer in the stock for about 15 minutes. All the stock will have been absorbed by then. Cover the pot and let the bulgar sit to fluff up for another 10 minutes.
  5. Take the stalks off the spinach and wash the leaves well. In a covered pot, cook the leaves in the water that clings to them after washing. They will wilt in about 4 minutes. Squeeze out the excess moisture and chop the leaves very roughly. Sauté the spinach for a few minutes in the remaining olive oil and season it well with salt and pepper. Stir this into the bulgar.
  6. Quickly cook the finely sliced onions in very hot olive oil – you want them golden brown with some crispy bits. For the last minute of cooking time, add the cinnamon and brown sugar. Stir this around and, once the sugar has melted and begun to slightly caramelize, add a good squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper.
  7. Layer up the different components in a broad shallow bowl – tip in the bulgar, sprinkle on half the mint, then the tomatoes, then the rest of the mint. Break the labneh into lumps and scatter them over the tomatoes. Now strew the onions on top, drizzle with a slug of extra virgin olive oil and serve.

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