Tabbouleh is a vegan Levantine salad of parsley, bulgur (or cracked wheat), cucumbers, and other fresh veggies tossed in a bright dressing. If you’re looking for an alternative (or new to you) salad recipe to serve alongside your entree, this is a winner. For those interested in a vegan main course, this tabbouleh salad is filling enough to replace most, if not all, of your go-to proteins.
*I published this recipe in March 2018. I’ve updated the images and article for clarity.*
What is Tabbouleh?
Tabbouleh is a parsley and bulgur salad from the Levant- the geographical region where Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel are located. Tabbouleh is a vegan dish that serves as an appetizer, or meze/mezze, in many parts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Here in the States, the dish is more bulgur than parsley. I didn’t realize this until my dear friend, Zaina, pointed it out. Zaina, who is Lebanese, let me know that my tabbouleh wasn’t very “Levantine” because of the bulgur to parsley ratio.
“You Americans always want to make things hearty. Why do you add so much bulgur?'” She asked me.
Any time someone leads with “You Americans,” you just have to know your feelings are going to get hurt. Sure enough, that one cut me deep. But she wasn’t wrong, so that was the day I changed my tabbouleh recipe. While my bulgur to parsley ratio still wasn’t authentic to Zaina, she admitted it was way better than before. I mean, I’m not from the Levant, so I think she gave me some grace.
Tabbouleh should look green from the fresh herbs that are in it. The bulgur must come second to the herbs. Fresh veggies come third to all.
What is the proper spelling?
In most countries, a recipe can have many different spellings. The Levant is no exception to this rule. The different spellings of tabbouleh reflect the wide variety of countries, people, and languages that enjoy it.
Tabbouleh, tabouli, or taboulah, they’re all wrong, since the proper name of the dish should be in Arabic: tabūlah (or تبولة). I’ll refer to it as tabbouleh, though, since that’s what I’ve been calling it for decades.
What do I need to make Tabbouleh?
To make tabbouleh, you need flat-leaf parsley (you can also use curly parsley), fresh mint, cilantro, bulgur, red onion, pomegranate arils (or cherry tomatoes), Middle Eastern Spice Blend (or baharat), garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper.
You need a clean kitchen towel to squeeze the bulgur after soaking it as well. This is probably the simplest salad to make, but chopping the vegetables will take a couple of minutes.
What is bulgur?
Bulgur (also spelled bulghur) is a cereal of cracked groats of wheat- mainly durum wheat- which has only the husk removed. A groat is a minimally processed grain kernel like oats, rye, or wheat. Basically, bulgur is a kernel of wheat with the husk removed and later cracked to a particular size. Bulgur is a highly nutritious grain because little else is done to it. In fact, if you’re looking for an alternative to rice, quinoa, or couscous, you need to consider adding bulgur to your diet. Bulgur contains twice the amount of fiber and four times the folate that brown rice does. Yet, you can prepare in much the same way as brown rice.
Bulgur comes in a variety of sizes or cuts. For this tabbouleh recipe, I use coarse bulgur. You can use finer medium bulgur or an extra-coarse cut, but I suggest avoiding fine cracked bulgur. It will create a mushy tabbouleh.
Is bulgur the same as couscous?
Bulgur and couscous are both wheat products. The difference between bulgur and couscous is that couscous is a man-made product like pasta is. Bulgur is just husked wheat that’s cracked into various sizes. On the contrary, couscous is formed by hand from the remnants of ground wheat. After mixing with water, the wheat is rolled to form small pellets. The pellets are sifted, and what remains is dusted in flour to become couscous.
Despite their differences, couscous can be a substitute for bulgur when making tabbouleh if you can’t find bulgur where you live.
How far ahead can I make the Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette?
I make the lemon-garlic vinaigrette for this tabbouleh before anything else. It’s simple enough to prepare. Also, you can mix the vinaigrette a week ahead and store it in a jar in the fridge.
Add the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, Middle Eastern Spice Blend, salt, pepper to a pint-size mason jar. Screw the lid on tightly and give it a vigorous shake for 1 minute. This combines the usually incompatible lemon juice and oil into an emulsion or a smooth dressing.
Can I use the Vinaigrette for other recipes?
You can store the lemon-garlic vinaigrette in the fridge until you’re ready to dress the tabbouleh or leave it out at room temperature. Depending on how early you make it, you might need to shake it together again. As the vinaigrette sits, the lemon juice and oil will separate. A quick shake will set the emulsion right again, though.
This lemon-garlic vinaigrette can go on any salad you want to pour it over. It can also double as a marinade for chicken, fish, or shellfish. Don’t marinate fish or shellfish in it for longer than 20 minutes, though. The amount of acid in the lemon juice will cause these ingredients to cook and become tough if they’re marinated in it for longer than that.
Do I have to cook bulgur?
Bulgur needs to be soaked in boiling water for at least 20 minutes to soften it. You don’t need to “cook” it on the stove, per se. Simply rinse the bulgur under cold water to remove any dust from the processing stage. Transfer it to a large mixing bowl after rinsing it and cover it with 3 cups of boiling water.
Allow the bulgur to soak in the water for 20 minutes. This is a great time to cut and prep the rest of the ingredients for the tabbouleh.
Why does my bulgur stick together?
Scoop the bulgur into a clean kitchen towel after it soaks and softens. Bring the corners of the towel together and twist the bulb the bulgur creates. Wring out as much water as possible by twisting the towel until you can’t twist anymore.
Because bulgur is still wheat, it’s going to release some starch. The starch is released when the bulger is squeezed, which causes the kernels of wheat to stick together. Dump the bulgur ball into a large mixing bowl and continue squeezing out the rest of the bulgur that remains in the soaking liquid. Discard that liquid once you squeeze the life out of the bulgur.
How far ahead can I start the Tabbouleh?
Use your hands to break up the bulgur balls in the mixing bowl. Don’t fuss over it too much at this point. You’re going to continue mixing it once you add the rest of the ingredients. At this point, you want to break up anything larger than a golf ball.
Since tabbouleh tastes better the longer it sits assembled, I recommend making it early on the day you plan to serve it. That way, the bulgur has time to soak up the lemon-garlic vinaigrette and the other flavors in the salad.
Do I have to add veggies to my Tabbouleh?
Again, tabbouleh is a parsley and bulgur salad. Though my bulgur to parsley ratio is a little bulgur heavy, I still add quite a bit of veggies to the dish. You need to add the veggies because the salad will be underwhelming if you don’t.
Tabbouleh is commonly made with tomatoes, but I like to switch things up by using pomegranate arils. You can go with either fruit, though. Dice your tomatoes to a 1/8-inch big, so they don’t overwhelm the salad.
For obvious reasons, Persian cucumbers are the best variety to use in the recipe. They are the ones most commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking. So, it makes sense to use them. If you can’t find Persian cucumbers, use English cucumbers instead. Like the Persian cukes, they have thin skin and edible, not bitter, seeds, so they are less fussy than the darker, fatter Kirby cucumbers. You don’t need to peel Persian or English cucumbers unless you want to. Cut them into 1/8-inch dice and add them to the bowl with the bulgur.
You can omit or reduce the amount of onion you add to this dish. I know onions can be pungent when eaten raw, but they add so much piquant flavor to the salad that I can’t leave them out.
I use a mixture of green herbs: Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, peppermint (or mint), and cilantro. Curly parsley is a good substitute for the flat-leaf. It’s probably the only reason I’d ever buy the stuff if I’m honest (too much trauma from the 80s).
What other ingredients can I add to my Tabbouleh?
If you want to bulk up or get creative with your tabbouleh, here are some additional ingredients to consider adding:
- Crumbled feta, crumbled chèvre, or crumbled ricotta salata. The tabbouleh will no longer be vegan if you add these.
- Sprinkle kalamata or green olives or toasted, chopped pistachios or walnuts into the tabbouleh.
- Make the tabbouleh a hearty meal by tossing in diced, grilled chicken, lamb, or fish. Again, the tabbouleh will no longer be vegan if you add these.
Once you add the veggies (or other ingredients), pour the lemon-garlic vinaigrette over all of it. Use salad spoons (or your hands) to toss everything into the vinaigrette. I recommend using your hands since it allows you to break up the bulgur even more during tossing.
Do you serve Tabbouleh cold or hot?
After you dress the tabbouleh, cover the bowl and refrigerate the salad for 30 minutes. This chilling period gives the bulgur time to soak up the dressing. The flavors also combine better and create a more balanced taste.
Tabbouleh is a cold salad. You can serve it while the bulgur is still warm, but, again, it tastes more interesting when it’s been allowed to chill.
What other dishes can I serve with this?
Serve tabbouleh on its own or with a few discs of naan.
You can also serve this dish with a heartier main course. Here are some of my favorites:
How do you store leftovers?
You can store tabbouleh in a covered container in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. The longer it sits, the better it tastes. Unfortunately, the longer it sits, the less crunchy the cucumbers and onions become, as well.
Be sure to stir the tabbouleh before you serve it. The dressing likes to settle at the bottom of the container.
Can I freeze Tabbouleh?
Don’t freeze tabbouleh. The cucumbers in tabbouleh contain too much water and grow very soggy if you freeze them. This waters down the tabbouleh.
I think it’s simple enough to make ahead, though, so freezing isn’t really necessary.
Zaina is probably shaking her head at this image of my bulgur-heavy tabbouleh, but I know she loves that I still make it. I do hope you give this recipe a shot. Double the amount of parsley for a truly Levantine Tabbouleh. Even if you go the “Americanized route,” you’re going to be happy with the results.
Pin this recipe to your vegan or side dish boards for easy finding. Don’t forget to let me know what you think of my ratio in the comments below, too!
Tabbouleh (Vegan Levantine Parsley and Bulgur Salad)at Sense & Edibility
- clean kitchen towel
For the Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette
- 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) lemon juice from 2-3 large lemons
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves (1/2 tablespoon) garlic mashed into a paste
- 1 teaspoon (3 grams) Middle Eastern Spice Blend or baharat
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
For the Tabbouleh
- 1 1/2 cup (315 grams) bulgur (coarse cracked wheat), rinsed and drained
- 3 cups (750 milliliters) boiling water
- 1 medium (340 grams) english cucumber diced (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 1/2 small (70 grams) red onion diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 bunch (87 grams) Italian flat-leaf parsley chopped (or 1 cup)
- 1 bunch 15 grams) mint leaves chopped (or 1/4 cup)
- 1/2 bunch (15 grams) cilantro chopped (or 1/4 cup)
- 1 cup (227 grams) pomegranate arils or cherry tomatoes, diced
Prepare the Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette (Up to 1 Week Ahead)
- Add the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, Middle Eastern Spice Blend, salt, and pepper to a pint-size mason jar. Screw the lid on tightly and shake vigorously for 1 minute or until the lemon juice and oil form an emulsion or a smooth dressing.
- Store the lemon-garlic vinaigrette in the fridge until you're ready to dress the tabbouleh or leave it out at room temperature. Give it another vigorous shake just before pouring over the tabbouleh. You can prepare the vinaigrette up to 1 week ahead and store it in the fridge, as well.
Soak the Bulgur to Soften
- After rinsing the bulgur to remove any dust, transfer it to a large mixing bowl.Cover the bulgur with 3 cups of boiling water and allow it to soak in the water for 20 minutes.
- After the bulgur has soaked for 20 minutes, scoop the a cup of it into a clean kitchen towel set over a colander in the sink or set inside a large bowl. Bring the corners of the towel together and twist the bulb the bulgur creates. Wring out as much water as possible by twisting the towel until you can't twist anymore. Excess water will cause the tabbouleh to be too wet so try to squeeze out as much water as possible.
- Dump the bulgur ball into a large mixing bowl and continue squeezing out the rest of the bulgur that remains in the soaking liquid. Discard that liquid extracted from the bulgur.
Make the Tabbouleh
- Use your hands to break up any balls of bulgur that are larger than a golf ball. To the bulgur in the mixing bowl, add the diced cucumber, onion, parsley, mint, cilantro, and pomegranate arils (or diced tomatoes).
- Give the lemon-garlic vinaigrette a final vigorous shake, then pour it the contents of the mixing bowl. Use salad spoons (or your hands) to toss everything into the vinaigrette, breaking up any large clumps of bulgur as you toss.
- After you dress the tabbouleh, cover the bowl and refrigerate the salad for 30 minutes to give the bulgur time to soak up the dressing. The flavors also combine better and create a more balanced taste. Serve tabbouleh on its own or with a few discs of toasted naan.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- Couscous can be a substitute for bulgur when making tabbouleh. Prepare the couscous according to the package instructions.
- Baharat is a Middle Eastern spice blend that you can use in place of the Middle Eastern Spice Blend listed. Garam Masala is also a substitute for this.
- You can omit or reduce the amount of red onion you add to this dish.
- Curly parsley is a good substitute for the flat-leaf parsley.
- Double the amount of parsley for a truly Levantine Tabbouleh.
- Non-Vegan add-ins: stir in crumbled feta, crumbled chèvre, crumbled ricotta salata, or toss in diced, grilled chicken, lamb, or fish.
- Vegan add-ins: sprinkle kalamata or green olives or toasted, chopped pistachios or walnuts into the tabbouleh.
Tips and Techniques:
- The lemon-garlic vinaigrette can be used as a dressing for other salads, or as a marinade for chicken, fish, or shellfish.
- Since tabbouleh tastes better the longer it sits assembled, I recommend making it early on the day you plan to serve it. That way, the bulgur has time to soak up the lemon-garlic vinaigrette and the other flavors in the salad.
- I recommend using your hands to toss the tabbouleh together since it allows you to break up the bulgur even more.
- Tabbouleh is a cold salad. You can serve it while the bulgur is still warm, but, again, it tastes more interesting when it's been allowed to chill.
- Store tabbouleh in a covered container in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. Be sure to stir the tabbouleh before you serve it since the dressing likes to settle at the bottom of the container.
- Don't freeze tabbouleh. The cucumbers in tabbouleh contain too much water and grow very soggy if you freeze them which will water down the tabbouleh.