No one sits back on a Tuesday evening and says to themselves, “Jesus wouldn’t have eaten Ham on Easter.” I mean, no one who is normal thinks about that stuff. As we all know, I tend to be abnormal more often than not, so this is totally how I think. I mean, really. Jesus wasn’t strolling down the pebble-strewn street talking about, “I hope Peter’s mashed potatoes aren’t mealy again.” No. I tend to think things like this Tabbouleh are more in line with what He would eat.
Although tabbouleh is considered a dish of Lebanese origin, many Middle Eastern cultures enjoy it as a mezze (tapas-like) part of their meal. Hence, the reason why I think my Savior would’ve pulled up a chair he built to a table he DIY’d and tore it up whilst telling the pharisees they need to chill. Just how I break down theology, you know?
Tabbouleh is, fundamentally, a parsley salad with a small amount of bulgur, or rather, it should be. I’ve found that even chefs of Middle Eastern descent serve it in a bulgur-heavy style because they find a need to appeal to the American palate. I think it’s a travesty, but it in its original design, it is a pretty grassy-tasting dish. I believe that the thought of eating a “parsley salad” may be off-putting to some whom have never experienced the deep complexities of the dish as a whole. Because of this, I make my tabbouleh with a slightly-higher ratio of bulgur to parsley.
Making it with couscous? Like, no. Never. I won’t even dignify that with an answer.
I have been a huge fan of tabbouleh from first taste. There’s something very vibrant and verdant about the dish. I just felt like I was eating “clean”. But not, like, a vague “eating clean”, which no one even knows the meaning of anyway, even though they swear they’re doing it. Literally, eating “clean”, e.g. not dirty. Like, if a clean room or house could be a dish- this is what it would taste like…I’ve completely lost you, haven’t I? I’ve lost myself, actually.
Suffice it to say, I think it’s a healthy, pure, simple dish that tastes really good. You back? You good? Good. Me too.
I have a bad habit of having what I like to call “cooking cravings”. Cooking cravings are similar to the cravings pregnant women sometimes experience. I have an insane urge to cook something and time is irrelevant to me. No idea why it happens, or the psychology behind it; it’s just the way I am.
One particular day, I went hunting for bulgur after deciding that I wanted to try to recreate authentic Lebanese kibbeh. The hunt was annoyingly prolonged by the fact that very few grocers- in fact, none of them- in my town (or any town within a 20 mile radius) knew what bulgur was, let alone carried it. After explaining to them what it was (dried, cracked wheat), and being told they don’t have it, I had to drive 45 minutes to Austin to get my paws on a bag of it. The fact that Amazon could’ve delivered it to me in a day, or two, at the most was a moot point. This crackpot needed her bulgur now!
Long story not so short, I finally succeeded in obtaining my bulgur and dragged myself back home to accomplish my Lebanese dining mission.
Bulgur, specifically bulgur in tabbouleh, is one of the easiest grains you’ll ever prepare in your life. I can’t think of one that’s easier. Put your measured amount of bulgur in a bowl, then bring double the amount of water to a boil. Pour the boiling water over the bulgur.
Stir the bulgur to hydrate it thoroughly. **See how I’m having to drag out the instructions to make this a “thing”?** And let it sit for thirty minutes while you prepare the rest of the tabbouleh. This is the extent of the prep for the bulgur. Crazy simple.
While your bulgur is cooking, prep your veggies. Because I like to enjoy this tabbouleh in a variety of ways (on endive leaves, scooped up with pita, or on its own), I dice my veggies. When going for a small dice, you’re looking for roughly 1/4″ cubes of food. Each product requires a different method of cutting, so here are the ways I go about it for the veggies I use in my tabbouleh.
Cukes. Specifically English, or Hothouse, cucumbers are very easy to prepare. Unlike your regular Garden cucumbers, these don’t have waxy skins or bitter seeds inside. They are called “seedless” in spite of the fact that they have them. However, this seeds are so thin and sparse that they may as well be flesh. You’ll find English cucumbers wrapped in a film of plastic in your supermarket because they are not treated with the same wax that Garden cucumbers are. As a result, you don’t need to peel them…and I don’t. A great substitute in this dish, if you can locate them, are Persian cucumbers. I don’t bother looking for them because they are so similar to English that it’s not worth the up-charge they tack on because it’s “exotic”. I’m ‘Murican; English is exotic enough for me (they’re not from England).
English cukes are longer than your Garden variety, so I always cut them in half to make them more manageable. After I take off the dry, woody stem and end tips, of course. Once I’ve cut it to a practical size, I remove a 1/4″ sliver from the length of it- this gives me a solid, flat surface to cut through.
Now that my cucumber won’t roll away from me, I take my sharp chef’s knife and slice it into 1/4″ thick slices. Consistency with knife skills is key. There’s nothing that will throw off your food game than having a one inch piece of cucumber right next to one that’s an eighth of an inch big. It’s just odd.
I gather up my slices and arrange them in a way that allows me to cut as many as possible simultaneously. Essentially, I stack them and use the blade of my knife to line them up.
Then I slice…well, dice, actually. You’ll notice that they are the same size. We may have a few rogue ones, but I still only have one good hand.
Gather up these into a bowl and dice the other half of the cucumber.
The red, or purple, onions is diced somewhat similarly. I lop off the end opposite the root, then slice it in half. Again, I always try to make a flat, solid base to prevent movement in what I’m cutting. I peel the onion half after cutting it in half because it’s easier than fighting with uncut skin. After it’s peeled, I slice it into slices about 1/8″ wide, but I don’t slice through the root. The root acts an an anchor that holds everything in place until I’m done. Now, the reason I’m cutting the onion smaller than the cucumber is because red onions are pretty pungent. You don’t want hulking pieces of it in a raw dish like tabbouleh. Here, we are mincing them; so cubes 1/8″ or smaller.
Once we’ve made our slices, we turn our knife and mince into cubes. Gather these up into the same bowl as the cucumbers and move on to one of the stars of the show.
Yes, I said parsley salad. But, when have you ever known me to be regular? This salad contains an herb mix consisting of, not only parsley, but cilantro and mint. I like to be extra. After washing and removing the leaves from the tough stems, I dry my herbs well. Usually, I would have them wrapped in a paper towel drying while I’m cutting the cukes and onions. Once they’re dry, I throw the whole lot onto my cutting board and run my knife through them.
I then change the angle of my knife and go through them again. This happens three more times, with me changing the angle each time, to mince my herbs in a matter of seconds. You don’t want to bruise your herbs by mashing them or roughly chopping them. This is why having a very sharp knife is so important. Set the herbs to the side.
Most tabboulehs contain tomatoes. I like to use pomegranate arils instead. I explain how to remove the arils from pomegranates here. Obviously, with my hand now in a cast (long story), I didn’t want to have that in the photos. The linked post will take you back to better times in my hand’s modeling career. The arils can be set aside with the veggies.
By now your bulgur is cooked, plump and ready to be wrung out. Yes, you must extract all of the water you just filled it with. If not, you’ll have soupy tabbouleh. Not cute. I had the Soldier help me out on this one…that was also not cute. He tends to overlook the fact that…well, you want to keep as much of the bulgur in the bowl as possible. The Swedish Chef was nowhere near as messy as this guy was.
To drain the bulgur as efficiently as possible, place three or four spoonfuls of it into the center of clean kitchen towel. Gather the four corners of the towel together and twist until the water stops flowing (here’s what that looks like). The Soldier’s method was to wrap the towel around the bulgur lengthwise and twist the towel to wring out the bulgur in the center. Both methods work to accomplish the same goal which is to dry out the bulgur as much as you can.
Once your bulgur is dry, you need only mix together your dressing ingredients. Like, literally mix them together. Put everything into a jar and shake it up. That’s as advanced as it gets. The only unique thing about the dressing of crushed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, is the addition of my Middle Eastern Spice Blend.
Now, compile your tabbouleh. Put your chopped herbs into the bottom of a large bowl. I just put it into the bowl I’m going to serve it in because- well, dishes.
Add your veggies to the bowl.
Now dump in the drained bulgur. After you get it into the bowl, fluff it a bit with your spoon or a large fork. Try to separate the bigger clumps of bulgur so that the dressing can coat as much of it as possible.
Give the dressing another shake, and pour it onto the bulgur. I like to add the dressing prior to tossing the composed tabbouleh together because it gives the bulgur a little bit more time to soak up the dressing.
Now give everything a toss to mix.
This recipe is brilliant on its own, with a side of warm, crispy pita, or alongside a collection of other mezze dishes. Pin it for reference and share it with your clan. And tell me, what is your favorite “ethnic” food? Share with me below!
Tabbouleh: Levantine Parsley and Bulgur Salad
- 3 cups boiling water
- 1 1/2 cup bulgur
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1 tsp Middle Eastern Spice Blend
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 english hothouse cucumber, diced
- 1/2 cup about 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 cup parsley chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro chopped
- 1/4 cup mint leaves chopped
- 1 cup pomegranate arils
- salt and pepper to taste
- Rehydrate the bulgur by placing it in a large bowl and pouring the boiling water over it. Allow it to sit while you prepare the remaining ingredients, or for at least 30 minutes. Once the soaking time is complete, stain the water from the bulgur. Transfer the bulgur to a clean kitchen towel or piece of cheesecloth. Squeeze the excess water out by bringing up the corners of the cloth to meet in the middle. Twist the bundle until water no longer drips from it. This is key to preventing a soupy tabbouleh.
- In a small jar with lid (a Mason jar works great for this), combine the garlic, lemon juice, spice mix, and olive oil together, secure the lid and shake vigorously to create a dressing. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the parsley, cilantro, mint leaves, pomegranate seeds, cucumber and red onions. Toss lightly.
- Add the bulgur to the herb mixture, fluff the bulgur with a large fork, or spoon. Shake the dressing once again to combine and pour it over the salad. Toss well to fully coat the ingredients in the dressing.
- Season lightly, if desired, with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before stirring and tasting for seasoning once again.
- Serve as a side or atop endive leaves.
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