Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tabouli - Middle East Meal, Part 2

Bulgur wheat, fresh herbs and tomatoes in a garlicky vinaigrette, tabouli is the perfect salad to bring for potlucks or picnics because it can be made ahead and travels well.

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
Sea salt
Black pepper
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 argue 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.


Looking for parts one and three of the Middle East meal?


  1. I found all the ingredients for this except bulgur wheat! Finally tracked it down at an international market - it was labeled in Turkish only and the Koreans in the store had no idea which kind was good for tabouli. I rolled the dice and bought the kind marked, 'pilavlik.' After I got home and researched a little, I discovered I'd bought extra coarse bulgur instead of the fine ground stuff that's usually recommended for making tabouli....sigh. My experience with tabouli has been limited to mostly eating it, so I had no idea what I was looking for. I did make tabouli about 8 years ago, but at that time I just went to HEB and bought the only type of bulgur they had, no decisions to make.
    I did some poking around the internet and what I've gathered is that I should probably cook the coarse bulgur first instead of just soaking it in hot water. Or do you think I should just go buy some different bulgur?
    ...sometimes I miss America. Not too often, but sometimes....

  2. So sorry for the delay in responding! Our hotel internet in Istanbul blocked Blogspot so I couldn't post my answer. Who knows why?

    According to my Google Translate, pilavlik just means coarse, not extra coarse so you might be okay. I don't use the fine bulgur because the bits are too small and seem to disappear in the salad. I use one that is called medium coarse grain.

    Depending on how much is in your bag, you might do a test of the just adding the boiling water method to the 3/4 cup but use about 2-3 cups of boiling water. In my experience, the wheat will only soak up as much water as it can and never turns mushy. Then you can drain it. If that doesn't get it soft enough, I would probably pour off the cooled water and do the boiled water thing again rather than cooking it.

    Or, I suppose, you could boil it like pasta but keep tasting it regularly so it doesn't get mushy. You want it al dente, like good pasta.

    Let me know how it goes! Good luck!

  3. Thanks for the suggestions! When I looked at the fine (köfterik-or something like that) bulgur, it just didn't look anything like I remembered it looking (yeah, from 8 years ago...) so I just went with the only other option. I'll try it this weekend and report back - thanks again!

  4. I am sure it will be fine. :) You may find you prefer the extra bite in the bigger grain after all. Do let me know!


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