Oh, Mark Bittman, how do I love thee (especially on a busy weeknight, with a hodgepodge of leftover vegetables to use up and a strong disinclination for washing a pile of dishes)?  Let me count the ways:

1. Your recipes are simple.  So simple that I can skim a page or two, put the book away, and cook.

2. It doesn’t really matter what vegetables are languishing in my fridge, or what oddball beans or grains are in the dark recesses of my pantry, you have good ideas for what to make with all of them.  Your as-you-like-it style saves me a bit of money, too.

3. One of your recipes is worth a dozen dinners.  Sub a different grain or vegetable, or swap meat for beans.  It’s all good.

4. Your one pot meals — especially ones that reheat well or that can be reconfigured the next night into something new (your bean and vegetable chili was good, but burritos stuffed with chili, rice, and cheese are even better) — are the saviors of my weeknight kitchen.

5.  The kids like your food.  Or at least a few components of every dish (one will reliably eat meat and vegetables, the other beans and grains).  A dinner that everybody’s happy to eat is the best dinner of all.

This easy pilaf is tastier than the sum of its parts.  Sub any kind of pasta for the vermicelli.  Brown 1/4 to 1/2 lb. ground turkey, chicken, beef, or lamb in place of the cauliflower.  Arugula will work instead of spinach, or leave the greens out and serve the pilaf with a salad.  Homemade vegetable or chicken stock is especially nice here, if you have it.

Bulgur and Vermicelli Pilaf with Vegetables

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters

Yield: Serves 4-6

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small head cauliflower, cored and roughly chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. mushrooms, any kind, sliced

1 onion, chopped

1 c. medium- or coarse-grind bulgur wheat

1/2 c. vermicelli (or any pasta), broken into little pieces (kids love to do this — put the pasta in the biggest bowl you have and be prepared to sweep the floor afterwards)

1 tbsp. tomato paste

2 1/2 c. hot vegetable stock or water

A few handfuls fresh spinach, chopped (or use baby spinach, leaves left whole), about 3 oz.

A few tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Warm a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Drizzle in the olive oil, then add the cauliflower, salt lightly, and cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and starts to brown, about 10 minutes.  You can either remove the cauliflower from the pot, if you like large, intact pieces, or you can leave it in, in which case it will get very soft and break down.

Add onions and mushrooms to the pot and cook, stirring, until softened, at least another 5 minutes.  Stir in the bulgur, pasta, and tomato paste, season again with salt and a few grinds of pepper, and pour in stock.  Return cauliflower to pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover pot, and let simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat, fold in the spinach, recover the pot and let sit 15 minutes longer.  Taste, add parsley and adjust seasoning as necessary, and serve immediately.

Note: This reheats well, but you’ll have to add a little water and stir well to make it creamy again.

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