Remember the recipe for baked honey chicken wings that turned me into a selfish glutton? From the book laden with kid-friendly recipes? “Anne, Ben Aciktim” which from Turkish is “Mommy, I am hungry” is the name of the  book to blame. As the name suggests, it gives busy moms .. ahem.. (modesty aside) like myself, relief from raking their brains in search of recipes that would make their little ones happy. Being a selfish glutton, it so happens that I also look for recipes that would make me happy at the same time. For the second time in a row, the book proved that we can have it all – kids happy, the glutton mom even happier! These bulgur croquettes from the book are so darn good! They are even better dipped in walnut-tomato sauce jazzed up with dried herbs.

If you are not familiar with bulgur (alternative spellings: bulghur, burghul)  it is a form of whole wheat, that has been cleaned, parboiled, dried and crushed into small pieces. Because it has been parboiled, bulgur cooks very quickly. Depending on how fine the wheat grains are crushed, there are two main types of bulgur in the market – fine bulgur, good to use in meatballs and meat patties, and coarse bulgur, meant for pilafs. This particular recipe is made with fine bulgur which only needs a few minutes of soaking to become tender. The rest is easy. Scroll down to read the recipe and see for yourself. Enjoy!

Bulgur Croquettes with Walnut-Tomato Sauce
Adapted from “Anne, Ben Aciktim” by Sahrap Soysal

For the Croquettes:

2 cups fine bulgur
1/2 cup semolina (if not available, substitute with flour, but semolina is preferred)
2 cups  hot water (to soak bulgur)
1/2 pound (about 500 g) ground beef
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 medium onion, grated
1 egg
1 tablespoon sweet red pepper paste or 1 tablespoon tomato paste (or use a combination of the two)
1 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
Ground cumin, to taste (do not overdo)

1 cup corn oil, to fry

For the Walnut-Tomato Sauce

2 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled and pureed (if the tomatoes are not ripe and juicy, add 1 tablespoon tomato paste to the sauce as well)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic gloves, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon finely crushed dried mint or basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup walnut, finely chopped

First, prepare the croquettes: Put the bulgur and semolina (or flour) in a medium mixing bowl. Pour 2 cups of hot water on top and cover with a plate. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the bulgur is soft. Add the ground meat, walnuts, onion, egg, pepper paste or/and tomato paste,  salt, pepper and cumin. Knead thoroughly until the mixture is smooth and paste-like, about 5 minutes. Put the mixture in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Put the pureed tomato and if using, tomato paste, olive oil, crushed garlic, dried herbs in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the walnuts.

Now, make the croquettes. Taking an egg-size of the mixture at a time, squeeze it in your hand, shape it into a ball, then into a sausage. Continue in this way, until all of the mixture has been used.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium frying pan. Fry the croquettes in the oil, turning once to cook on all sides. Remove form the pan. If you wish, drain on paper towels. Serve with the walnut-tomato (you can warm it up or use cold) sauce.

Do you see yellow in the picture? I mean the beautiful yellow inside the slice of bread?

Don’t rush to blame photoshop for this. The poor thing is not to blame (at least not completely) and does not deserve a possible “color enhancement” accusation. It’s all because of turmeric. The power spice is blame as I happened to add it to the dough of this bread I made a couple of days ago. Not only did the turmeric add a nice yellowish tone to the  bread but it also added a surprising flavor to it, yes, surprising, as you would never guess there is turmeric in it, a very subtle flavor, one that is blending incredible gently with the sweetness of the sugar and the milk. No, turmeric was not an accident in the dough. It was supposed to be there, in the recipe for one of the most popular dessert breads of Azerbaijan.

Meet shirin chorek, or sweet bread, also known as sud choreyi, or milk bread (note that I’ve combined the two names to arrive at a new name, which I think conveys the gist of the bread much better). In the past this unusual bread was mostly baked on holidays such as Novruz or Ramadan, but nowadays Azerbaijanis don’t wait for a special occasion to indulge in this delectable bread – they bake it any time they feel like to, which also applies to me.

Shirin chorek can be prepared with either baking soda- or yeast-leavened dough. I personally prefer the latter as it yields a softer bread and one that keeps fresh for longer. Out of several shirin chorek recipes that I have, I particularly like one by my friend Gullu. Gullu was generous enough to share her old family recipe with the readers of her web site, and I am grateful to her for allowing me to share it with you.

Enjoy shirin chorek with a cup of strong black tea as Azerbaijanis would typically do. Or, if you are not into tea as much as Azerbaijanis are, enjoy it as a snack, for no reason at all. Just so. It is good. And subtly sweet. And Milky. And Yellow.

Sweet Milk Bread
(Shirin Chorek)
Adapted from here

Makes 2 breads

1 package (1/4 oz / 2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 cups warm milk, divided
6 +  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cups sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 egg, at room temperature
7 oz (200 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg, to glaze
1 teaspoon poppy seeds

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup milk and let stand for 5 minutes. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, salt, and turmeric powder. Stir to mix. Make a well in the center. Add the yeast mixture, the remaining milk, egg, and melted butter to the well. Stir with your hands until a sticky ball forms. Scrape the dough onto a flat surface and knead until elastic. The dough will appear to be very sticky in the beginning, but it will come together nicely and will be less sticky as you knead. The final dough should not be very tight, so don’t be tempted to add more flour unless the dough is still very sticky.

Shape the dough into a ball and put it back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and leave the dough to rise in a warm spot for about 1 ½-2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Punch the dough down and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Pat them into balls. Place the balls on your working surface and using your hands, flatten them into disks 9 inches (22 cm) in diameter and ½ inch (1.2 cm) thick.

Arrange the disks on the baking sheets. Cover the bread with a clean kitchen towel and leave aside for 1 hour, until they rise again.

Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).

Stir the egg to mix the white and the yolk, and brush the breads with this mixture. Decorate the surface of the breads by tracing cross-hatching patterns with the back of the fork tines, 4 times in each direction, each time at an equal distance from one another.

Sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake on the middle rack of the oven until golden, 30 to 35 minutes (if your oven doesn’t fit two baking sheets on one rack, place one sheet on the lower rack, and another on the top rack, bake for 15 minutes, then switch and bake until ready). Remove from the oven. Allow to cool completely, then cut into pieces and serve. Nush Olsun!

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