Seasonal Pantry: Three simple ways to make tabbouleh
Tabbouleh is a grain-based salad ubiquitous to the Middle East and parts of the Mediterranean. It is also enormously popular locally and has been for a couple of decades. We see it in delis, cafes and restaurants as well as on our own home tables.
Nearly all tabbouleh is made with bulgur wheat, parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon juice, olive oil, and frequently fresh spearmint, but proportions vary widely. In the U.S., most versions contain a large quantity of bulgur, with small amounts of the other ingredients. In Lebanon, which some people claim is where the salad originated, there is a greater quantity of parsley and other greens, with a fairly small amount of bulgur.
In Israel, it may be made with Israeli couscous, a round pasta about the size of a peppercorn.
As Americans increasingly avoid wheat, substitutes for bulgur — mostly seeds, including quinoa, millet and teff— have become increasingly popular. Any of today’s recipes can be made with one of these.
Tabbouleh presents an opportunity to adapt the dish not only to one’s dietary preferences but also to fit the seasons.
Using the basic formula, you can omit tomatoes and cucumbers in the fall and spring, using, instead, celery, green olives and avocado. Sorrel is great as an addition or a substitute for parsley, cilantro, spearmint and spinach, should any of those not be available.
But it’s the middle of summer, the perfect time to enjoy a traditional tabbouleh.
I like to serve this tabbouleh with either plain whole milk yogurt or a chunk of feta cheese and, sometimes, good hearth bread. On a hot night, it is a full meal.
Makes 6 to 10 servings
1 cup medium-grain bulgur
— Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
— Pinch of ground cayenne
— Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 serrano, minced
1 bunch (8 to 10) scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 cucumber, peeled, seed and cut into very small dice
4 medium-size backyard-quality tomatoes, cut into small dice
¾ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
½ cup fresh spearmint, cut into very thin crosswise ribbons
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
Put the bulgur into a strainer, shake out any debris, rinse under cool water, and set the strainer with the grain in it in a large bowl. Cover with water and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes.
Lift the strainer out of the bowl and shake off the water. Either press the bulgur in the strainer to release as much water as possible or wrap the bulgur in a clean tea towel and twist out the water.
Put the bulgur in a large glass or porcelain bowl and pour the dressing over it. Stir in the cayenne, cinnamon and serrano.
Scatter the scallions on top of the grain, followed by the cucumbers and tomatoes. Top with parsley, cilantro and mint. Cover tightly and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
To serve, use two large salad spoons or forks to toss the ingredients together, being sure to reach to the bottom of the bowl to incorporate the bulgur and dressing. Taste and season with salt and pepper.