Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tabbouleh: A Middle-Eastern Bulgur Salad

Tabbouleh, without the vegetables. Still plenty tasty.
Tabbouleh is one of my go-to summer salads. It's hearty because it's made with a whole grain: bulgur. Bulgur is wheat berries (whole wheat kernels) that have been steamed, dried, and ground. Bulgur is not cracked wheat, though the terms are often used interchangeably. Cracked wheat is raw ground wheat and it needs to be cooked before using (and cooked quite a long time).

Tabbouleh is bright and light because of lots of parsley and lemon. It usually contains fresh tomatoes and other crunchy vegetables. I find that the veggies get mushy and the dressing gets soupy if you keep the salad for very long, but the bulgur just gets better the longer it sits and absorbs more of the lemon and oil. So, if you are going to eat the salad within 24 hours, mix in the vegetables. Otherwise, add some salad veggies when you eat it. Besides tomatoes and cucumber, add chopped red onions, chopped scallions, diced bell peppers, olives, even avocado, though that one is definitely not traditional!

Tabbouleh is also delicious served with simply grilled fish or chicken, with or without the added veggies.

(serves 6-8, costs $3 without any added veggies)

1 cup bulgur, coarse to medium grind
1 cup chopped parsley, 15 to 20 large sprigs
2 Tablespoons chopped mint, the leaves from about 6 large sprigs (optional)
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
¾ teaspoon salt + more when you add the veggies
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Soak bulgur in 6 cups cold water for 1 ½ hours. The bulgur will still be slightly chewy but not hard. Pour into a strainer to drain off water and set over a bowl to catch any drips. Let it drain for about 15 minutes so the bulgur dries out a little. Pour off any collected water in the bowl and put the bulgur in the bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Can be served immediately but it's better if it sits overnight in the dressing.

Feel free to improvise with the veggies. Traditionally, it's diced tomatoes and chopped onion. I like it with 2 medium tomatoes and a ¼ of a chopped medium red onion. Add another generous sprinkle of salt when you add the vegetables.

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