Tabouli or tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern combination of herbs and vegetables, mixed with a type of wheat called bulgur. The greens – parsley, mint and green onions or scallions – dominate. Dusted with bits of bulgur and tomato and mixed together with a lemony dressing, it is a fragrant and refreshing alternative to lettuce-based salad. My Not Quite Traditional Tabouli also includes chopped cucumber, which gives the salad a nice crunch.
Almost all the tabouli recipes I’ve found list the ingredients with imprecise quantities: a bunch of mint, 2-3 bunches of parsley, and 4, 5, or 6 tomatoes. What is a novice cook supposed to do with those directions? Mint and parsley bunches are not uniform in size. Tomatoes are as varied as the stars, from tiny to mammoth. My Not-Quite-Traditional Tabouli recipe breaks that pattern, with measurements that you don’t have to follow precisely, but can use to get the proportions right.
Tips for Making Tabouli
- Variations on a theme – There are as many versions of tabouli as there are cooks who make it. Some swear by curly parsley. Others wouldn’t use anything but flat leaf. Some insist on adding cucumber, while others consider that heresy. You get it. Don’t be intimidated if you want to tinker with the recipe ingredients or proportions.
- Using bulgur – IMHO, the bulgur wheat in tabouli should be lightly spread throughout, with emphasis on the “lightly” part. I use only 1/4 cup of fine bulgur. You’ll find recipes that use as much as a full cup for the same amount of greens. Don’t do it. Also, use fine bulgur, not medium or coarse ground. You don’t need to cook it. Just let the bulgur soak in lots of water and drain it well before adding the bulgur to the vegetables.
- When to make tabouli – Many recipes claim that tabouli is best made shortly before you serve it. I disagree. As long as the the dressing is light (resist the urge to drown the greens), it tastes delicious hours later, even the next day.
Not Quite Traditional Tabouli
- 1/4 cup fine bulgur wheat
- 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, stemmed & finely chopped about 1 1/2-2 cups or 3 ounces
- 1 bunch fresh mint leaves, stemmed & finely chopped about 3/4 - 1 cup or 1 ounce
- 1/2 - 1 bunch green onions or scallions, green parts only, chopped small about 1/2 cup or 1 1/2 ounce
- 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and finely chopped about 1/2 cup or 2 1/2 ounces
- 1-2 large fresh tomatoes, seeds removed and cut into small dice about 1 1/2 cups or 8-10 ounces
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice from about 1 1/2-2 lemons
- 1/4 - 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- kosher or sea salt + freshly ground pepper to taste
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
Pour at least 1 cup of warm water into the bulgur wheat in a medium size bowl and set aside.
Put all the chopped vegetables in a bowl. Mix them together gently until they are thoroughly combined.
Using a colander or strainer lined with a clean cotton handkerchief, several thicknesses of cheesecloth or even a few paper towels, strain the bulgur well. Gently press out any extra water and sprinkle the bulgur over the greens, cucumber and tomato mixture. Discard the water.
Mix the lemon juice and olive oil together. Add in salt and pepper and pour just enough of it over the tabouli salad to wet it. Mix thoroughly. Reserve the rest of the dressing to add just before serving. Taste the salad, adding more salt and pepper if required.
After you soak the bulgur and press out the water, it swells to about twice the size it was when dry.
I mix my lemon juice and olive oil in a small jar with a lid.