You eat WHAT for breakfast?

10 Aug


“Bulgar,” I respond, “an ancient grain from the Middle East that’s still eaten everywhere. In Turkey it’s been a staple for more than a thousand years–in pilafs, soups and side dishes, sometimes served instead of rice or potatoes. And it’s delicious.”


In the photo, along with the cooked grains I’ve added a Portobello mushroom and a couple of ripe tomatoes, roasted on the stovetop in a little hot olive oil ὰ la Alain Bourdain.

I learned to cook bulgar from famed  anthropologist John Murra when he came to Florida  to walk through the Everglades with me and my friend Loeffler, who had once been his student.

John, retired, still carried metal in his body from the time when, barely out of his teens, he volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War with the International Brigade, at one point leading a contingent of wounded men over the border to a safe camp  in France. I cornered John in my kitchen one morning because I wanted to grill him on Loeffler’s former wives and girlfriends—he had known them all—but instead found myself learning how to make bulgar.

Murra’s Bulgar Recipe

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a pot. Add 1 cup bulgar and toast the grains, stirring, two or three minutes. Add 2 cups of broth (chicken, beef or vegetable) or water. Cook with lid on for about 20 minutes. This makes enough for three or four servings. I always make enough  for breakfast 3 or 4 times a week. (1 serving = 150 calories.)


I have a whole role of film of our Everglades walk, John and Loeffler with their eyes down and  heads together, talking, talking, oblivious of the tropical jungle around  them, strange cypress knees poking up, a gray heron flying overhead.


John’s great contribution to Andean Studies was his model of “vertical archipelagos,” the organization by which the Inca Empire ruled and communicated and  the system  by which it  moved and distributed vast amounts of goods across distances separated by mountain peaks. He received many honors, including the Great Cross of the Order of the Sun by government of Peru.

Here’s my favorite story about John  Murra.

When he was teaching at Vassar College, the school defended  him against the US government’s effort to deport him for his time in Spain and his leftist politics. Many flocked to his defense. One character witness was a US Navy Admiral—John’s former father-in-law.

Murra won.

4 Responses to “You eat WHAT for breakfast?”

  1. sarahdubinsky August 20, 2016 at 1:52 am #

    I’ll add Bulgar to my diet. Beautiful job at weaving themes.

  2. Clare Shore August 21, 2016 at 11:33 am #

    Wonderful, enlightening story, Martha … and scrumptious!

    – Clare

  3. Damyanti Biswas July 18, 2017 at 3:25 am #

    I cook Bulgar once in a while, as a replacement for rice. Delish.

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