Tabouleh (or Tabooly, Tabouley, Tabouly, Tabboole, Tabbouleh) is one of those ubiquitous Arabic dishes that has entered the Western diet along with Shish Kebabs, Baba Ghannouj, Hummous, and pita bread. Few people really give any of these dishes much thought about where they originated, but what they do know is with the ever-popular Mediterranean Diet, these dishes have become almost de rigeur to the Western palate.
Tabouley did originate in the Middle East, namely Syria, and has been eaten since at least the Middle Ages (and quite likely further back than that). The word tabouleh comes from the Arabic word taabil (توابل) meaning “seasoning”. There are, of course, regional variations. In Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, it is usually served as part of a meze (appetizer), with romaine lettuce. In Lebanon, cooks use more parsley than bulgur wheat in their dish. A Turkish variation of the dish is known as kısır, while a similar Armenian dish is known as eetch.
(some information from www.wikipedia.org)
There are no real hard-and-fast rules to making tabouleh. Every region, every household, has its own version. The most common ingredients are:
Onion (yellow or green)
Some of the variations include:
I’ve also seen recipes that include:
For me, I like to stick to the classic preparation, with the inclusion of garlic.
So, in my tabouleh, I have (from l-r)
Green Onions, sliced very thin
Lemon juice, to taste
Tomatoes, seeded and diced
Burghul Wheat, rinsed, soaked and drained
Salt to taste
A few notes on the ingredients:
1. If you use cucumber, use either English (hothouse) or Persian cucumbers. They have a lower water content and fewer seeds. Plus, they don’t need peeling. However, if you must use the standard cucumber, you will need to peel them (the skin is tough and usually waxed) and scoop out the seeds. I cut mine into a roughly 1/4-inch dice.
2. Tomatoes will need to be seeded and diced. Unless you’re using cherry tomatoes. Just cut them in halves and don’t worry about seeding them.
3. The traditional parsley used in tabouleh (or any Arabic dish, for that matter) is curly. However, if you have flat-leaf (Italian), that’s fine. I happened to already have some on hand, so that’s what I used here.
4. If you use green onions (scallions), use both the green and white parts. If you use yellow onion, use a fine mince. Don’t use red onion – the color will leach out.
5. If you use garlic, make sure it is finely minced. And, remember, raw garlic is powerful stuff. Begin by using less than you think you should use. Once the salad is finished, taste. You want the garlic to compliment, not overpower. Remember, you can always add, but you can’t take away.
The same can be said for any of the seasonings.
I don’t include any measurements in this recipe because, like I said before, there are no true hard-and-fast rules.
That being said, The ratio I prefer of bulgur-to-vegetables is about 1 cup (soaked) bulghur to 2 cups vegetables.
As for the bulghur, I like to use is a medium-coarse grind. I prefer the chewiness of it, which is especially nice after the tabouleh has been sitting for a while, like overnight.
There are four different grinds of bulghur:
#1: very fine – usually used in kibbeh
#2: fine – usually used in stuffings and tabouleh
#3: medium coarse – can be used in tabouleh, but is also used in soups and pilafs
#4: very coarse – usually used in pilafs, stews, and as a rice substitute
You will need to wash and soak the bulghur before adding it to the vegetables. There is a lot of dust left on the bulghur during the manufacturing and packaging. The best way to accomplish this is to place the bulghur in a fine sieve (or a colander lined with cheesecloth) and run it under cold water until the water runs clear.
Once you have rinsed it, transfer the bulghur to a large bowl and cover with water (about 1″ above the surface of the wheat). Let the bulghur sit for at least 20 minutes (depending on the grind) or until it is al dente. The wheat will increase in volume by 50% – 100%, again, depending on the grind.
While the wheat is soaking, prepare the vegetables & herbs and place them in a bowl large enough for you to mix in when all the ingredients are ready.
When the wheat is ready (taste some to be sure it’s to your liking), drain it thoroughly in a fine sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth. There shouldn’t be too much water left. If there is very little water, you can simply squeeze the bulgher in your hands and add it to the vegetables.
Now, carefully mix together all of the ingredients until they are fully incorporated. Add the olive oil, lemon, and salt to taste. Mix again. Taste again. If you can, let the tabouleh sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.
The real beauty of this dish is it can be served with anything or alone. It can be served cold or at room temperature. And, anyone can eat it – omnivore and vegan alike.
It will keep in the refrigerator for 3- 4 days.