Recently I was invited to a potluck picnic and I was trying to decide what dish to make. As usual, I looked to my garden for inspiration. There were herbs, parsley and refreshing mint, as well as sweet and juicy sun gold tomatoes (I am still harvesting these golden beauties). The farmers market had cucumbers, romaine and red onion. Add garlic, harvested earlier, lemon, good quality fruity olive oil, mix with bulgur and you have a classic Tabbouleh Salad. If you are unfamiliar with bulgur (it is also spelled bulghur), it is wheat kernels that have been steamed, dried and crushed. It is often confused with cracked wheat but it is not exactly the same. It has a tender chewy texture and comes in coarse, medium or fine grinds. It makes an excellent wheat pilaf as well as salad. For this salad preparation I use a medium or coarse grind.
I have been making versions of this Middle Eastern dish for decades. It is so fresh and vibrant it is always a hit. Perfect for a potluck as it can be served room temp and holds well. Another appealing aspect of this beautiful salad is it requires no cooking and gets better if it has time to marry. Make ahead? You can totally make this ahead but I would recommend adding the onion, tomatoes and cucumber about 30 minutes before serving.
Good news if you are gluten intolerant, you can make this dish substituting quinoa or brown rice for the wheat (try adding wild rice to the mix). The quinoa and rice will require cooking and cooling, however. Couscous also works well if you want to mix it up a bit. I often like to veer from the classic and add nuts. This time I added toasted slivered almonds but I have also used toasted hazelnuts or pistachios. I like the added texture and crunch the nuts add but the classic stands on it own even without this addition. Once again, recipes are a guideline so feel free to make it your own.
This is how it goes down.
TABBOULEH SALAD 6-8 portions
1 c (heaping) bulgur
1 c boiling water
1/2 c fresh lemon juice
2 t fresh minced garlic
2/3 c extra virgin olive oil
3 T fresh mint, coarsely chopped
1 c fresh Italian/flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 c red onion (finely diced) or 1 c scallions, sliced
1 t coarse ground black pepper
1/2 t sea salt
4 ripe plum tomatoes (can also use grape or cherry tomatoes, halved)
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1c toasted slivered almonds, optional
Fresh mint, lemon wedges for garnish
1. Combine bulgur and boiling water. Set aside for ½ hour or until bulgur is soft. Drain off excess water if necessary, fluff with fork.
2. Whisk together lemon juice, garlic and olive oil.
3. Add mint and parsley to bulgur. Toss well with fork.
4. Add tomatoes and cucumber, toss again. Dress with lemon olive oil mixture and blend well. Allow to stand, loosely covered, for thirty minutes to an hour to allow flavors to marry.
5. Garnish and serve at room temperature or chilled.
What makes this dish really bright is the fresh herbs, especially the mint. Seasonally, these ingredients lend themselves to Summer or Fall harvest but I admit to making it in Winter. What makes this possible is the year round availability of fresh herbs and grape tomatoes. I never advocate using tomatoes out of season with the exception of this variety. They are by far your best choice for sweetness in the off-season. Needless to say, seasonal is always the best but sometimes I just have to make this so I make an exception.
When I first discovered this recipe I made it so much my friends asked me to stop. Seriously! I have since added many more dishes to my repertoire so this is no longer an issue but it remains a favorite. Add your own spin on this classic and take it to a new level. If you cook from your heart, you will always cook like a rock star and without a doubt will be the star of your next dinner party or picnic. By the way, it is great left over for lunch the following day.
Until next time, stay healthy, be happy and spread the love, one dish at a time. Feeling the love, Queen Jeanne