Saffron Bulgur Paella

Couscous, Fish, Main Course, Mediterranean, Seafood, Spanish

Hi Fran!

I have a tendency to set myself up for a stressful situation every time I invite people over for dinner. As I have come to realize, I always decide to try a new recipe for such occasions, resulting in a surprise for both the guests and myself every time. In theory this sounds like a great idea, because the stack of recipes I collect keeps increasing, and it is a good excuse to try them out. In practice, always stressful.

  1. I never know if the recipe is to be trusted blindly
  2. I never know how the food will come out tasting
  3. I never know what the precised cooking time will be, to plan getting ready accordingly

I think I mentioned this to you before, at the end of February, I went back to Greece for the weekend. As I was only going to be home for a couple days, I decided to have my friends over for dinner so that I would definitely see all of them. That night I decided to cook paella, that was the one and only dish served that night, along with a nice fresh field greens salad. I thought, it would be a real treat for all of us. Nice fresh seafood, saffron, Spanish deliciousness… I did not think once all about the difficulty and intricacy that cooking with these ingredients. It came out, very very average. The flavors were on, but the rice was too sticky, the saffron was not powerful enough, and overall it was too heavy and dense a meal. Of course we all ate it and had a great time, which I think I have abundant wine to thank for.

So yesterday, after a lot of inner debating, I decided to try making paella again. This time however, I was going to do it the express Matina-way. As a reference recipe, I turned to my favorite UK food magazine for their Delicious – Saffron paella with squid and roasted red peppers. The photo looked delicious, the ingredients sound delicious… aside from the rice. I wanted something slightly fluffier, so I went for bulgur wheat (we call it πλιγούρι (pligouri), it is the whole version of couscous).

Saffron, it is one of the most amazing flavoring agents out there. It has an exquisite aroma, beautiful gold color and pairs amazingly with seafood! I used Greek Saffron, called Krokos Kozanis. It comes from beautiful flowers which are cultivated in Kozani. Saffron has been used in Greece since antiquity, mostly for its medicinal virtues. Today, Krokos Kozanis is deemed as being of excellent quality, and resides among the best in the world. (For more information, Kopiaste has a great post on it, and a delicious saffron rice pudding recipe!) … back to paella.

Saffron Bulgur Paella

(very heavily adapted from Delicious magazine’s Saffron paella with squid and roasted red peppers)


  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • Large pinch of saffron (10-15 strands)
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 cup chopped vine-ripened tomatoes, skinned (about 5 medium small)
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 2 roasted red peppers and cut into strips
  • 300-350g (12 oz. pack) Mixed seafood (Mussels, shrimp, calamari)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • Lemon wedges, to serve


  1. Bring the chicken stock to the boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the saffron, remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan. Add the onion and fry for 5-6 minutes until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, tomato and paprika and fry for another 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in the bulgur wheat, add the saffron-infused stock and bring to the boil. Stir once, then lower the heat to a simmer and leave the rice to cook uncovered, without stirring, for 10 minutes. Stir in the pepper strips and continue to cook for a further 15 minutes until the stock has all been absorbed and the bulgur wheat is tender.
  4. Shortly before the bulgur wheat is ready, add the seafood to the paella. Cook until heated through.
  5. Sprinkle with the chopped fresh parsley and serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over.

I know you don’t eat seafood(aside from fish), so perhaps you could make this with chicken, or even vegetables… some eggplant or zucchini would be amazing… actually oooh yumm!

Also, I would love to try this with:

  • Giant couscous, also known as Israeli couscous
  • Quinoa
  • … once I muster up the courage, arborio rice 🙂

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