Bulgar wheat pilaf with asparagus, mushrooms and tarragon

Bulgar wheat pilaf with asparagus, mushrooms and tarragon. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times / April 24, 2013)

Bulgur pilaf with asparagus, mushrooms and tarragon

2 hours. Serves 4 as a side dish

1 (1-pound) bunch medium asparagus

1/2 pound button mushrooms

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon (stems reserved), or to taste, plus more for garnishing

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley (stems reserved), plus more for garnishing

3 cups water or light vegetable broth

Salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling

2 tablespoons butter or additional olive oil, divided

1 onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/3 cups), divided

2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)

1 cup (about 5½ ounces) bulgur, medium-coarse (No. 3) or medium (No. 2)

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon semi-hot red pepper such as Aleppo pepper or pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1. Trim the tough ends from the asparagus, reserving the ends for flavoring the broth. Cut the asparagus spears in 1-inch pieces. Cut off 1 thin slice from the tip of each mushroom stem, and reserve the slices to flavor the broth.

2. To make the broth, combine the asparagus ends, mushroom stem slices, tarragon and parsley stems in a saucepan. Add the water, cover and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat until the broth is aromatic and delicately flavored and the asparagus ends are tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes. Strain and discard the vegetable and herb trimmings.

3. Return the broth to a boil. Add the asparagus pieces and a pinch of salt. Return to a boil and cook uncovered over medium-high heat until the asparagus is crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon, rinse briefly with cold water and drain. Pour the broth into a measuring cup and add water if necessary to make 2 cups. Dry the pan.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Add two-thirds cup chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the bulgur and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the hot asparagus broth, standing back to avoid any steam. Add one-half teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook without stirring until the broth is absorbed and the bulgur is tender, about 15 minutes. Add the red pepper and mix in lightly. Cover the bulgur and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes.