I’ve mentioned before that we lived in Abu Dhabi for a couple of years, way back when. And that is where we first ate shawarmas and falafel and hummus. (A freshly fried falafel is a tender-inside, crispy-outside bite of toothsome heaven. As we would wait for the shawarma guy to build our sandwiches, the falafel guy would hand us each one to eat while we waited – on the house. As you can imagine we went back often!) But I honestly don’t remember tabouli from those times. I know that seems crazy and I must have eaten it – how could I not? – but I just don’t remember. My earliest memory of tabouli is from Macaé, Brazil.
Anyone who has ever lived in a little oilfield town knows how close friends can get. We become like family. We are each others’ entertainment and we help raise each others’ children. This expat life is full of the joy of newcomers being welcomed into the family and the sadness of departing friends wrenched away from our tight circle. In Macaé, one of the members of that circle was my friend, Jenny. The mother of two daughters very close to the ages of my girls, we spent a lot of time together. She was raised in Jerusalem, in a family of Greek heritage so I believe she spoke Greek as well as Arabic, Portuguese and impeccable English. Possibly other languages. She is very smart. Jenny taught me how to make tabouli and I am forever grateful. She said that back home, all the women in the family would get together and make massive amounts of tabouli together. It was a social event. Sounds like my kind of good time! Now that I live only a two-hour flight from Jenny’s current home, I hope to get to see her again soon. Meanwhile I just think of her fondly whenever I make tabouli. Even after all these years.
For the salad:
3/4 cup or 130g bulgur wheat
1 bunch green onions
1 very large bunch of cilantro (coriander) or flat leafed parsley or a mixture of the two (If my memory serves, Jenny’s husband wasn’t fond of cilantro so she used all parsley. Parsley is not my favorite so I tend to use all cilantro. You can mix and match as you see fit.)
1 large bunch of fresh mint
About 13 oz or 375g tomatoes
For the dressing:
3 tablespoons or 45ml fresh lime or lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic
6 tablespoons or 90ml olive oil
In metal or heatproof bowl, cover your bulgur wheat with 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and cover the bowl with a bit of cling film. Set aside.
Chop your green onions finely and set aside.
Pick the mint leaves off the stalks and cut most of the stalks off of the cilantro/parsley. (The tender, narrow stalks near the leaves are fine to leave in.) Wash the herbs several times and dry in a salad spinner or a dry dishcloth. Chop them thoroughly, rocking your big knife back and forth on a cutting board.
Cut the tomatoes in half and cut out and discard the inner core. Squeeze out the seeds and discard them. Chop the tomatoes into little pieces.
Once the bulgur wheat has absorbed all of the water it can, drain it in a strainer and push down on the top to get rid of any excess water. Put it in a big salad bowl with plenty of room to stir.
Add in the green onions and squeeze them into the warm bulgur wheat with your hands. Jenny said it helps the onions release their flavor into the wheat. Or something like that. Just do it. You do not argument with the wisdom of Greek mothers.
Next add in the tomatoes and then the herbs. Stir well.
Mince your garlic cloves and add them to a bowl with the fresh lime juice and about a 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt (or to taste) and a few generous grinds of fresh black pepper.
Add in the olive oil and whisk until the dressing is thoroughly mixed.
Pour this over your salad and stir well and you are ready to eat!
This tabouli gets better and better as it sits so you can make it ahead without any problems. It is the only salad I have been known to eat for a day or two after. Sometimes three, if it lasts that long.
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