The Absolute Best Tabbouleh

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

I recently stayed with a friend in San Francisco, and we were deciding what to make for dinner one night. Earlier that day, I had gone to the market and purchased a half-pint container of tabbouleh, the herb, grain, and vegetable salad, thinking I would have it for lunch or a snack at some point during my stay. “I have tabbouleh,” I told her, and we placed it on the table with odds-and-ends leftovers and cobbled together a hodgepodge dinner. My friend tucked into the tabbouleh, took a few bites, and proclaimed, “Wow, that really hits the spot.”

That is the magic of tabbouleh. It’s filling and satisfying, and you’ll wonder why you don’t eat it more often. Of course, I bought the tabbouleh that day, but it’s so easy to make it yourself at home.

Tabbouleh has as many spellings as it does recipes. Tabbouley, tabbouli, tabbouley, and various other incarnations, is a Middle Eastern herb and grain (bulgur) salad that is served all over the Eastern Mediterranean as part of a larger mezze spread. The ratio of ingredients differs depending upon the culture. Lebanese use mostly herbs and little bulgur, for example, whereas Palestinians use more of the grain.

Bulgur varies, too. There is coarse bulgur or cracked wheat but look for fine bulgur for this recipe. Bulgur cooks relatively quickly as its outer bran layer is stripped after the wheat kernels (or berries) are steamed and dried.

This recipe calls for a 2:1 parsley to bulgur ratio, a Goldilocks balance. Add more herbs or bulgur to suit your taste. Now that we are heading into summer, you’ll be able to find the rest of the ingredients of high quality. Ripe tomatoes, crisp and sweet cucumbers, and good quality olive oil (please, please, please don’t ever use bad olive oil!)  And lemons! Use the real ones; squeeze out the juice yourself. If you prefer the flavor of limes to lemons, feel free to sub them out. Serve this chewy and tangy salad alongside grilled meats or falafel, or mix it with a bit of hummus and stuff into pita bread, and, like my friend, you’ll find out that this mighty and storied salad really does hit the spot.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup fine bulgur (sometimes called #1)
  • 2 bunches of curly parsley
  • 12 large mint leaves
  • 1/2 English cucumber
  • 5 green onions (scallions)
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 2 lemons, juiced (about 6 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pinch of salt and pepper, plus more to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Put the bulgur in a bowl, cover it with an inch of just-boiled water, and let it sit for at least 20 minutes. (It will double in size.)
  2. Wash and dry the parsley and mint. Remove the stems, finely chop the herbs together, and put them in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Peel and deseed the cucumber half. Slice it lengthwise into thirds, then chop.
  4. Chop the green onion (scallions) and tomatoes and add them to the cucumber, parsley, and mint.
  5. Drain any remaining water out of the bulgur and add it to the vegetables.
  6. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to the salad. Mix well, taste, and adjust the seasoning and olive oil as needed.

You can watch how to prepare tabbouleh here.

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