It’s been a long cold winter and my body’s been aching to eat something vibrant and green. It’s still a bit early for spring vegetables, but Tabouleh is a verdant Levantine salad you can put together with vegetables and herbs that are available all year.
While it’s a simple salad to prepare with very few ingredients, here are a few key points that separate a great tabouleh from a bowl of rabbit food.
- First, as with all simple dishes, it’s crucial to use the very best ingredients. This means good quality olive oil and fresh parsley. But the two most important things are to use ripe tomatoes and tender cucumbers. Since it’s not exactly the height of tomato season right now, I used cherry tomatoes, which tend to be sweeter. As for the cucumbers, I like using Lebanese cucumbers for my Tabouleh because they have tender skin, a nice crunchy texture, and just a bit of sweetness, but japanese cucumbers also work well. If you can’t find either, use a hot house cucumber (a.k.a. English cucumber), removing the seeds with a spoon.
- The second thing is to soak the bulgur in the dressing. Many recipes tell you to cook the bulgur. Bulgur wheat is par boiled before it’s dried and so putting it in boiling water will make it too soft. Traditional Tabouleh recipes usually call to soak the bulgur in cold water, but I prefer soaking it in the dressing because it absorbs the concentrated flavors of the dressing, keeping the finished salad from tasting watery.
- Lastly, don’t be afraid of the parsley. According to Wikipedia “The Levantine Arabic tabbūle is derived from the Arabic word tabil, meaning seasoning.” since bulgur isn’t much of a seasoning one can only imagine that the name is referring to the potent herbs that go into the salad. I know many people are used to thinking of parsley as an inedible garnish that comes with your meal at Denny’s, but it was an herb before it was a garnish. It’s also loaded with anti-oxidants and is even purported to slow the growth of tumors.
It’s worth noting that cucumber is not a traditional addition to Tabouleh, however I like the texture it adds. If you want to make a more traditional Tabouleh, just omit the cucumbers. Tabouleh tastes great the day it’s made, but I think it’s even the better the next day. Serve it as part of a Meze, or on a bed of greens as a salad.
- Whisk the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper and salt together in a small bowl, then add the bulgur wheat. Let this soak for 1 to 2 hours, depending on the coarseness of your bulgur and how soft you want it.
- If the raw onion is too strong for your tastes, soak the minced onion in cold water for an hour or two to tame it. You may need to change the water a few times. Drain and dry thoroughly with paper towels before using them in the salad.
- Wash the parsley then use a salad spinner or paper towels to thoroughly dry it. Remove all the stems, then grab a handful and roll it up and slice the roll as thinly as possible. Chop the parsley in the opposite direction to the direction you sliced and you should get it pretty evenly chopped.
- Add the parsley to a large bowl along with the cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. Add the soaked bulgur along with the dressing and toss everything together. Tabouleh tastes fresh the day it's made, but if you let it sit overnight, the flavors have a chance to meld and it tastes even better.