8 Secrets on How to Make Perfect Tabbouleh
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
In western culture, parsley is used mostly as a garnish, decorating plates in restaurants, only to get pushed aside by diners who want to get to the main course. However, the Ancient Arabs, Greeks, and Indians marveled at the medicinal potential of parsley. Loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, parsley has been used to treat ailments from high blood pressure to allergies to indigestion. Why not reap the rewards of this herb in a savory, delicious way?
Tabbouleh (also known as tabbouli) is a Levantine Arab parsley based salad, enjoyed by Lebanese, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Syrians. The word tabbouleh is derived from the Arabic word “tabil” which means seasoning. There is a whole lot of seasoning in this salad, primarily from herbs. In most upscale supermarkets tabbouleh can cost up to 8 dollars a pound, but you can make it in your own home with fresh organic ingredients at a fraction of the cost. Tabbouleh is great not only alone but as a filling in sandwiches paired with hummus, labneh or falafel.
Tabbouleh is a perfect summer salad, a flavorful way to use up any surplus garden tomatoes. This salad travels really well in hot climates because there are no perishable ingredients. My favorite memory as a child was of my parents driving us to Napa Valley for a summer swim to escape the freezing San Francisco summers. Our cooler was always loaded with tabbouleh, hummus, pita bread, apricots, figs, and marinated chicken for a barbeque.
The 8 Secrets for Making Tabbouleh:
First make sure you wash the parsley thoroughly, as parsley can harbor a lot of dirt in its curly leaves. Dry completely before using in a salad spinner or colander, so that the olive oil and seasonings stay on the parsley
Do not put the parsley in a food processor as a shortcut, as this will yield a mushy green soup rather than a salad. Make sure you use curly leaf, rather than flat leaf Italian parsley, and chop as finely as possible.
Bulgur wheat, or cracked wheat, add a nutty flavor to the salad, and you can find it in the bulk bins of your supermarket. Bulgur is sometimes sold by number, like 1,2,3. This just shows the size of the grain, and for tabbouleh, you want the smaller sized grain, preferably size 1 or 2. Bulgur is high in fiber and contains protein as well.
Soak the bulgur in lemon juice. Not only will this infuse lemon flavor into the bulgur wheat, it will soften the grain.
A lot of store-bought tabbouleh is heavy on the bulgar, but traditional tabbouleh is less starchy and has a higher ratio of parsley. This makes tabbouleh a fairly lower carb salad
Line up the scallion shoots before chopping, and soak them with the olive oil so they would last longer
Roma tomatoes have fewer seeds and hold their firmness in the salad longer than beefsteak tomatoes. The less juice in the tabbouleh, the less chance of the salad getting mushy. Scoop out the seeds if possible, and use a sharp knife to get nice symmetrical cubes of tomatoes.
This family recipe from my Palestinian family uses Persian cucumber, but you can leave out the cucumber if you wish.
2 bunches parsley, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped into small chunks
2 green onions (scallions), chopped, soaked in an olive oil
2 sprigs mint, chopped
1 Persian cucumber, chopped finely (optional)
½ purple onion, finely chopped
¼ cup bulgur or cracked wheat
Juice of two lemons
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
Combine the bulgur wheat with the lemon juice and cover, set aside and let soak for two hours or until wheat is soft. You can even soak the bulgur overnight. Combine parsley, tomatoes, onions, mint, and cucumber. Add cracked wheat and lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Combine and serve immediately.
Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, food writer, and host of the cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond You can check out her cooking video tutorials and cultural commentary on growing up Arab American on her Youtube channel.
Her recipes can also be found here.