Tabbouleh

tabbouleh

I find myself living in a Potemkin village, my cookbooks — clutter! — hidden away, my stand mixer — clutter! — stashed in the hutch, my pots, pans, utensils, teapot — clutter! — boxed up in the garage. Staged by the realtors, our house has never looked cleaner, prettier, or more color coordinated. It also has never been more unlivable.

Even so, today I discovered that with little more than a knife, a cutting board, and a large bowl, a beautiful whole grain salad can materialize in no time. Determined not to eat takeout for the fourth night in a row, I made a big bowl of tabbouleh, a dish my mother made for us all summer long for as long as I can remember, a dish that feels at once light, satisfying and nourishing. With some warm pita and a block of feta, dinner was served.

Unlike many grains, bulgur requires nothing more than cold water — yes, cold! — to fluff up and become edible. You can’t mess it up. There are no grain-to-water ratios to remember; there are no cooking times to adhere to. After an hour of soaking, the cold water is drained and the bulgur is ready to be dressed in olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper.

I should note that this tabbouleh is not a traditional Lebanese tabbouleh in which parsley is the star and bulgur an accent. In this salad, the bulgur plays as much of a role as the cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, scallions and herbs (parsley, chives and mint). Here, too, I’ve used extra-coarse bulgur (found at Greek, Middle Eastern and whole food markets), which is chewier than fine bulgur, tasting more like barley or farro than couscous or quinoa. Of course, any kind of bulgur can be used.

In this season of bbqs and potlucks when side dishes are always welcomed whether advertised or not, nothing could make a host happier. This tabbouleh is light and lemony, complementing anything from hot dogs to grilled vegetable kabobs, a dish enjoyed by meat eaters and vegans alike. What’s more, this bright and colorful salad is as delicious as it appears… if only our house could be the same. Fingers crossed for a quick sell. I miss my kitchen.

Don’t forget the mint!
ingredients, but don't forget the mint!

chopped ingredients

bag of bulgur

cup of bulgur

bulgur, covered with water

After a one-hour soak in cold water, the bulgur is ready to be drained:
absorbed bulgur

drained bulgur

lots of parsley

ready to be tossed

If you like whole grain salads, you might like this quinoa salad and either of these farro salads. Also more side salads and green salads can be found on The Essentials page.
tossed bulgur

Tabbouleh

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

Notes: I know you see a measuring cup and a sieve in the photos, but neither is necessary. You can use as much or as little bulgur as you would like — just be sure the bulgur is covered by an inch of water — and if you don’t have a sieve with a fine-enough mesh, use the cover of a pot to hold back the bulgur while you drain off the water.

Also, as always, use the amounts of veggies/herbs as a guide. I like a whole grain salad filled with vegetables and herbs, but add as many or as few as you would like. Also, while I don’t think it is necessary, a little feta cheese offers another dimension to this salad while not disturbing the salad’s wonderful crunchy texture.

1 cup bulgur, extra-coarse* if possible
1 red onion (to yield about a cup when finely diced)
5 to 6 scallions
1 small bunch of chives
1 English cucumber
1 to 2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 bunch parsley (to yield a heaping cup once chopped)
mint (to yield about a quarter cup once minced)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 lemons, juiced to yield about 1/4 cup
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

*You can use whatever bulgur you like. My mother finds extra-coarse bulgur at her Greek market, which I love, but this might be hard to find in a regular grocery store.

1. Place bulgur in a large bowl. Cover with cold water. Let stand for one hour. Drain in a sieve (if you have one with a fine enough mesh) or use a pot cover to hold back the bulgur while you drain the water into the sink. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, finely dice the onion (see this video for guidance if you are looking for some). Mince the white and light green portion of the scallions. Mince the chives. Small dice the cucumber. Halve or quarter the cherry tomatoes, depending on their size. Mince (roughly mince) the parsley. Mince the mint.

3. Spread the bulgur out in your bowl. Season evenly with kosher salt (I used a teaspoon) and freshly cracked pepper. Add all of the chopped vegetables and minced herbs. Pour in the olive oil and lemon juice. Toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

tabbouleh

32 Comments

  1. I just want to say that aside from looking absolutely delicious (I LOVE tabbouleh and I’m just going to have to try this recipe), but those are some of the most beautiful pictures of vegetables I’ve seen. Gorgeous photos! I’m drooling with photographic envy! :)

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  2. I adore tabbouleh, it’s always my favorite salad at Middle Eastern restaurants. Great idea of making the bulgar a more crucial ingredient, such a hardy salad for any summer picnic. I’m sure I’ll be making this soon!

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  3. I’m excited to try this! My cooktop died and I’m in desperate need of cooking inspiration that does not involve pots and pans for a bit. This looks delicious!

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  4. I always salt the cooking water — salting grains afterwards just never tastes right. How does this work when cold soaking (vs boiling)?

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    • Kelly — I am definitely a salt lover and tend to have a heavy hand especially when salting cooking liquid, but it doesn’t seem to be necessary here. I never salt the cold soaking liquid, and it never seems to matter. Salting afterwards seems to flavor the bulgur just fine. That said, I think next time I might experiment with salting the cold liquid — it never hurts to try, right? I will report back when I do.

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  5. I make tabbouleh all summer – and no mayo or dairy-based dressing makes it’s the perfect picnic or potluck side.

    Not traditional at all – I put chickpeas & crumbled feta in mine, to make it a bit more filling for my big eatin’ boys.

    I usually use Roma tomatoes, but you’ve got me thinking I should try some of the wonderfully colorful cherry tomato varieties I’m starting to see at the Farmer’s Markets. And I don’t usually add red onion, just scallions, but I love them, so will have to try that as well.

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    • Lollie — I love the idea of adding chickpeas for a little heft, especially when you have some big appetites on your hands :) And great point about the no-dairy dressing for the summer. Roma tomatoes are what my mother swears by, too. Yum!

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    • Canada Mike, I love it…my husband is right there with you. I have never tried doing so, but honestly, I can’t imagine a little sausage would do any harm. What kind of sausage are you thinking? Feta cheese is a nice addition, too, if you are looking for some protein, but I think sausage will be delicious. Let me know what you decide!

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  6. So I was one of those people that simmered bulgur (much like Bittman describes this week). After reading this post I decided to try the soaking in cold water for an hour – a lot chewier and crunchier, though my husband still needs convincing. Made this as an “empty your fridge out” salad last night – threw in some steamed, then chilled broccoli, chopped up fennel, raisins, dressed it and that was dinner.
    BTW – good move on the house with the fruit trees. I grew up in a house like that and my childhood memories of eating apples, plums, peaches, and figs directly from the tree until we couldn’t move are amongst the fondest memories I have. Your kids would remember that, and not whether you had a dishwasher or a bathtub. Good luck with your move!

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    • Mama Poule — hi! It sounds as though the bulgur may have been a little too crunchy? Did it get softer as it sat in the dressing? Bulgur is definitely a good vessel for accepting days-old contents in the fridge. Your combination of broccoli, fennel and raisins sounds delicious.

      I am so happy you approve of the decision to buy a house based on backyard plants vs. appliances. I just hope we get up there in time to really enjoy some peaches. We move so soon! It’s going to be a chaotic few weeks. Thanks so much for the good luck wishes!

      Reply

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