Lebanese Cuisine — Tabbouleh: Bulgur and Parsley Salad

Lebanese cuisine has been one of the most underrecognized, highly influential cuisines in the world.  Lebanon’s position at the far eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea has historically made it a crossroads for travelers moving between North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, and as a result a surprising number of dishes popular from Greece to India owe their existence to the food traditions of the tiny country, including hummus, baba ghanouj, fattoush, tabbouleh (recipe follows), tahini, and every superhero’s favorite, shawarma.

Lebanon quick facts:

  • Capital: Beirut
  • Population: 4,822,000 (2012 estimate)
  • Notable Lebanese: Saint John Maron, Kahlil Gibran, Rony Seikaly

Lebanese food is simple.  Most dishes are comprised of whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, seafood, poultry, or occasionally goat or lamb.  Everything is prepared with a liberal use of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, or herbs.  Tabbouleh, the Lebanese salad of bulgur (cracked wheat grains), tomatoes, and parsley (oh so much parsley; the amount indicated below is not a typo) flavored with lemon juice and olive oil, has rapidly gained popularity around the world.  Here in the United States it is served at most Middle Eastern restaurants and is even available ready-to-go at many supermarket delis.

Tabbouleh

adapted from From the Lands of Figs and Olives: Over 300 Delicious and Unusual Recipes from the Middle East and North Africa by Habeeb Salloum and James Peters

SERVES 4 TO 6

  • 3/4 cup bulgur
  • 2 bunches curly parsley leaves, minced
  • 2 Tbs minced fresh mint
  • 5 green onions, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, finely diced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Bulgur is an interesting grain in that it does not always need to be cooked, depending on the use.  For our tabbouleh, we were able to simply place our bulgur in a bowl and cover with water:

bulgursoaking

After about an hour of soaking, the bulgur was tender and ready to be drained.  We used a clean flour sack over a strainer for the job, which had the benefit of allowing us to squeeze out all the excess liquid:

bulgurdrained

The bulgur was combined with the rest of the ingredients and our tabbouleh was ready to serve:

tabbouleh

When we said Lebanese food was simple, we were serious.  Tabbouleh is a great dish to make in large quantities, saving any leftovers for snacks or lunches later.  The flavors only improve over time, the garlic, tomatoes, lemon, and parsley coming together quite nicely.  Tabbouleh is fresh, healthy, full of vitamins, and delicious, and served as a fine introduction to Lebanese cuisine.

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