Bulgur and cabbage pilaf (Safsouf)

January 18, 2012  •  Category:



 Today a man was offering homemade products from his village: Carob molasses, orange and rose water, tomato paste, olives, olive oil etc. When I asked him “How much” he replied “I will give it to you for free, my mother made these”. So I offered him what I thought was a great price for the lot, except I turned down his olive oil since we get our own. He started rattling off the sad story of his sister who needed an operation and how her disease got started and how it was getting worse and worse and how much each shot to save her  was going to cost him (medicine straight from France); I said I was very sorry about his sister, but had no more money to offer him. His sister’s condition got more urgent by the minute and I was told that he did not want any money for anything, it was all free, except I had to pay for the olive oil (triple what I was offering). He added that he had a good job, naming the firm he was working for, but thank God they had a small plot of land and could produce these and help their sister, etc etc. 


Plain and rustic, this dish is from rural areas in Lebanon; it is thought to have been the precursor to tabbouleh, since it is a bulgur pilaf scooped up in a cabbage leaf. It contains chopped nuts, onions, bulgur and cabbage. It lends itself to some  sprucing up with spices or a dash of  pomegranate molasses. 

This version is adapted from a recipe transcribed by Chef Ramzi  in his Culinary Heritage of Lebanon. It is prepared in the Hermel region.

INGREDIENTS: 6 to 8 servings

  • 1 small cabbage (the equivalent of 3 cups shredded)
  • 2 cups of chopped walnuts (can substitute almonds or pecans or pine nuts)
  • 2 cups of chopped onions
  • 2 cups of  bulgur (can use coarse as well, #2 is best)
  • 1 tbsp of chili paste
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil (or more as needed)
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 1 tbsp of pomegranate molasses (optional)
  1. Cook the cabbage in several cups of boiling water or steam till tender; drain and shred finely.
  2. Brown the onions in olive oil till almost caramelized. Wash the bulgur under running tap water and cover with hot water for 30 minutes. Drain. Add to the skillet with the onions and cabbage. Add the nuts and chili paste and other spices if desired (salt, pepper, cumin, pomegranate molasses). Stir-fry in olive oil for a few minutes and serve at room temperature or warm as desired. You can serve with additional cabbage leaves to scoop the bulgur pilaf. 
NOTE: If you are using coarse bulgur, soak it in boiling water.


23 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Kathy says:

    Your story made me smile…sounds like nothing is free. I love the way this dish sounds and looks…will be giving this a try soon! I even have some pomegranate molasses in my cabinet.

  2. Rosa says:

    A great dish! Something I’d love to try soon, since I have all the ingredients necessary at home…



  3. Tiffany says:

    What an interesting encounter. But the pilaf is beautiful and sounds absolutely delicious!

  4. Claudia says:

    People and their stories – you smile, you cry, you wonder. But it’s precisely what I love about the human race. We have stories. And the means to dream up wonderful food from humble beginnings. Never did cabbage look so enticing.

  5. Cherine says:

    The same story happened with my dad… Loool how funny!
    I’ve never tasted safsouf… Must be delicious!

  6. sare says:

    Thank you for remembering this dish that I love…
    In the middle of Türkiye, we make it but we don’t use wallnut( I’ll use it next time). We add hot chile pepper and of course a glass of ayran besides.

  7. Magic of Spice says:

    What a story, things like that make me so uncomfortable as I never know what to do. Carob molasses however sounds very interesting. This pilaf on the other hand is just amazing…gorgeous dish!

  8. deana says:

    This does look good. I love the walnuts with the cabbage.

    I thought of you this week when I saw a script that takes place in Beirut… the way things are done, they could shoot it anywhere but I thought it was cool.

  9. Belinda @zomppa says:

    You know I adore bulgur, but I am really digging the molasses!

  10. Nammi says:

    He should have named a price rather than the sad story.

  11. weirdcombos says:

    I love your bulgur recipes always good looking, original and tasty. I’ve been to places in Brazil where they try to rip you off the same way, it;s hilarious lol

  12. Priya says:

    Super flavourful one pot meal,simply inviting..

  13. Sonia Rumzi says:

    Just happen to have some shredded cabbage in the fridge. Wanted to find a good recipe. This is amazing! Thank you so much.

  14. Nuts about food says:

    This looks like a very tasty and healthy dish…but wait…did you end up paying? I get frustrated in those cases, it makes me not want to buy anything.

  15. Susan says:

    Interesting ploy! I can imagine how exhausting that encounter must have been.

    What a wonderful pilaf recipe! I love cabbage and everything else in it. I made a pilaf with quinoa for the first time last week and loved it.

  16. Alaiyo Kiasi says:

    I loved the narrative that accompanied your post, and I love the thought of making this recipe. I still have bulgar left over from the Thanksgiving dish, and I’ll try to find the special molasses online. Hope you are well!

  17. Sandhya says:

    looks like this person has relatives all over India. have heard such stories numerous times!

  18. domi says:

    Un plat trop ” chou ” de votre délicieuse cuisine…

  19. Caffettiera says:

    Oh the story of this man is so funny! It is exhausting to shop in those areas – Southern Italy is the same. Thank you for this recipe, it seems the only vegetable I can get now is cabbage, and any variation on it is most welcome.

  20. M. Dianne Macksoud Grotius Berry says:

    All my life, I wondered about the origin of Tabouleh and other beautiful Lebanese food my mother presented and passed on to us . We called it saf-souf. Thank you for sharing this story. I’m thrilled to have this legacy revealed by your information. There’s a fragrance of loving spice coming through this connection! God bless you!

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