The nights are drawing in and there is a definite chill in the air. There is no doubt that Autumn is here and seasonal produce is changing. But while there is still a hint of the sun’s rays in the sky, I will cling to the tiny amount of residual warmth and still crave a little freshness and clarity in my food before months of comforting stews and warming soups take over the kitchen.
Tabbouleh is one such dish; a beautifully light and fresh salad with a zingy dressing that you can either eat on its own for a simple lunch, or as part of a mezze with things such as hummus and mujadara.
Tabbouleh is probably one of the most mistreated recipes in Lebanese cooking. If you buy what is called tabbouleh in a pot from a supermarket, it will taste nothing like the real thing for various reasons. The main one being that most shop-bought versions in this country are a take on bulghar wheat salad with a few herbs. This is not true tabbouleh, which is actually a herb salad with a little bulghar wheat added. As such, it is not a salad you can box up and keep in the fridge for long, as the herbs wilt in the dressing very quickly. The whole point of tabbouleh is the fresh, crunchy sharpness, so make it yourself and eat it as soon as you can.
Tabbouleh is much more than the sum of its parts. The list of ingredients is short and simple, but combines to make the most wonderful salad.
Parsley is the most important ingredient in this recipe. Always choose flat leaf, as curly will not work here. Do not be afraid of the amount of parsley here-it really is necessary. The way you chop it is also important; try to slice rather than chop too finely, as parsley bruises and goes soggy very easily. I would recommend buying a few of the giant bunches you get from asian corner shops or Middle Eastern supermarkets, as it is cheaper and usually better in flavour than the supermarket versions. However, I appreciate that not everyone has these places nearby and so, to serve four people, you will need at least seven 30g supermarket packets of parsley. Yes, at least seven.
You will also need mint. Not as much as parsley, as it’s a zingy note to accompany the parsley, rather than to overwhelm it. It’s important to pick the leaves from the stems to avoid any woodiness.
I have waxed lyrical about sumac in previous recipes. It really is the most beautiful spice; bitter, citric and will make your mouth tingle in the most wonderful way. Here it enhances the lemon in the dressing and brings out all the freshness of the other ingredients. If you don’t have any, or can’t find it, you can just use a little more lemon, but I would really recommend you trying to get hold of some. It works wherever lemon does; you can sprinkle some on a piece of chicken or white fish to roast and it is simply beautiful.
The amount of bulghar wheat so small you may wonder if it is worth putting it in. Although small, it is essential, as it adds a lovely texture and a subtle, nutty taste. It may seem odd not to cook the bulghar before you add it to the salad, but there is a method in this apparent madness. Fine bulghar is well named. It is so fine that it absorbs any liquid it comes into contact with instantly and so it sucks up the dressing for the salad as soon as it is added. If you cook it beforehand, it will be soggy and dissolve into mush. Not nice.
makes enough for 4 lunch portions or as part of a larger mezze
175-200g flat leaf parsley, chopped
45-60g mint, picked and chopped
400g very ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 large cucumber, de-seeded and chopped
3 spring onions, finely sliced
45g fine bulghar wheat
juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp sumac
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1. Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, sumac and a little salt and pepper in a large bowl. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
2. Add the bulghar wheat and mix into the dressing.
3. Add the parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumber and spring onions.
4. Mix well and serve with toasted pitta bread to soak up the lovely juices.
This recipe is for my lovely friend Luda, who recently said she was missing my posts. Hope you like this one!