Tabbouleh is something I neither understood nor enjoyed not too long ago. In case you haven’t been fully introduced to it yet, it’s a Lebanese salad of parsley, mint, bulgur, tomatoes, and lots of lemon. I’ve always thought of it myself as primarily an exotic salad that, if presented in front of me, was to be appreciated for its cultural and healthful aspects, but not for much else.
After all, it’s a salad made of mostly herbs. Herbs! Things I thought existed in their mildest form to provide the slightest contrast of color on finished dishes, and at their boldest in a pureed pesto. The most prominent herb of tabbouleh, parsley, is especially something I’ve always been on the edge about.
I ended up changing my mind when I actually got a good taste of it (imagine that!) at the Lebanese restaurant in my college town. I put away my presumptions about it, and tasted it for what it was: a bright and refreshing herbal salad.
David Lebovitz has a pretty great post about tabbouleh, and how most versions show up as a bulgur salad with specks of herbs. More authentic tabbouleh only has speckles of bulgur, not the other way around. And as much as I agree with him (and honestly, who am I to disagree?), I do love a little bit of a bigger bulgur-herb ration than he has featured. I like tasting the chew of the bulgur against the herbs, with the background acid of the lemon and the roundness of the olive oil.
Anyway, this isn’t a recipe to bookmark or to put on some list of dishes to accomplish. It’s something that feels like it should make a consistent appearance all through summer, spooned out onto pita chips, or eaten directly by itself. Or, piled on top of this hummus and then spooned up with warm pita bread. The sharp, lemony tabbouleh cuts straight through the creaminess of the hummus. It is quite the experience, especially in the warm days of summer like the ones we’ve been having.
One Year Ago: Peach Shortcakes
Adapted loosely from Lebanese Food & Cooking
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
A key to great tabbouleh is thinly sliced parsley leaves that aren’t bruised or mushy, so make sure to use a sharp knife and slice (not chop!) the parsley in tight bunches. Also, I don’t think the lemon zest is traditional, but that’s how the Lebanese restaurant that turned me on to tabbouleh served it. Take big strips of the lemon rind with a vegetable peeler, making sure not to get any bitter white pith, and then chop it as fine as you can.
1/3 cup fine-grain bulgur
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1 heaping teaspoon lemon rind (only the yellow part), finely chopped
2-3 tomatoes, diced
2 large bunches flat-leaf parsley, stems mostly removed and leaves finely sliced (see note)
large handful mint, leaves finely sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
In a heatproof bowl, pour 2/3 cup boiling water over the bulgur and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside for 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid, and transfer bulgur to a large bowl. Add olive oil and the lemon juice and zest and toss to combine. Add the thinly sliced parsley, mint, diced tomatoes, and the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and toss to combine. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve immediately, before the herbs wilt.