Tabbouleh

I had no intention of writing about parsley again and I should apologise to those of you who dislike the stuff, this rash of parsley recipes must be very tedious. I wasn’t even planning to post this week considering my imminent departure for a long weekend in London. But then on Wednesday night we jumped in the rusty, trusty red panda, scuttled across a very warm and humid city to go to a concert by the lake in Villa Ada. The concert was fantastic, front row no less – Vincenzo was all glassy eyed. this was proper hero stuff for a reggae drummer – as Toots and the Maytals reminded us all that Reggae’s got soul and that Kingston is Funky.

Just before the concert – it must have been about 9, the light soft and dusty, crickets clicking, mosquito’s anticipating - we had food from one of the various stalls that are dotted around the lake. Vincenzo went Indian; rice, a tasty chickpea curry and some odd-looking but rather good Indian cheese balls. I was tempted by the steaming curry, dithered, changed my mind and back again, before deciding it was too warm for such hot food and had a plate of Middle Eastern meze.

I know my plateful was nothing special, it was good, tasty and fresh, but I’ve certainly eaten much better. But under the cypress trees, in the dusky light of Villa Ada, waiting for Toots while the bass player finished the sound check, a creamy blob of chickpea hummus, another of smoky creamed aubergine; baba ganoush, the heap of parsley flecked tabbouleh, all waiting to be scooped up by pitta bread, was just wonderful. More importantly the plateful reminded me of the delights of Middle Eastern food, how long it’s been and most importantly, that in all this parsley fuss, the soup, the pesto, the green sauce, I have overlooked one of my favourites, tabbouleh.

Before coming to Italy I used to cook, in a very niave way I’m sure – quite alot of Middle Eastern inspired food. My family has a flat on Paddington street in London and I lived there for several years. It is fantastically close to the cluster of middle eastern, the Lebanese, Arabic, Persian shops, emporiums and restaurants around Chiltern Street and Edgware Road. Living in the midst of this vibrant and delicious community, eating Lebanese, Turkish, Syrian or Arabic – please forgive my ignorance if it shows –  food at least once, often twice a week, I started to experiment at home. It was at this time my Mum suggested I bought Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern food, a stunning and masterful book which although neglected since I moved to Italy, is and always will be one of my favourite food books. I found an original first edition, 1968, dusty, musty, the alluring scent of old pages, in a second-hand bookshop and then read it like a novel. The second thing I thing I made from it – the first was hummus – was rich, earthy and beautifully simple Lebanese tabbouleh.

I’d eaten plenty of tabbouleh before making it myself, delicious most of it, but often slightly wet with tomatoes or bulky with cucumber which seemed to unbalance the delicate seasoning of the dish. Claudia Roden’s recipe is beautifully simple, just soaked and carefully dried bulgur wheat mixed with finely chopped onion – you use you hands so you can squeeze the wheat and onion together so the juice of the onion infuses each grain – and a vast heap of parsley and mint. This green flecked mass- there is as much parsley as bulgur – is dressed simply with lots of olive and lemon juice. It is a marvelous dish, humble and elegant in the same moment, the earthy bulgur, the fragrant grassy parsley, the refreshing mint, the acidic bite of the lemon, the olive oil of course.

I think that tabbouleh is best in the company of others, in both senses. It’s best eaten amidst the chatter and clatter of people, hands, voices and a muddle of different dishes. My ideal plate would be a spoonful of thick yogurt laced with cucumber and mint, another of hummus creamy with tahini (my friend Daniela’s recipe. She is brilliant cook and I am trying to convince her to write in English more), maybe a stuffed vine leaf or a thick slice of grilled halloumi, some sultry baba ganoush . With all this in mind, I was tempted to dash to the shops for yogurt, chickpeas and aubergines. But thrift got the better of me -for a change- the only dash was for bulgur wheat, all the other ingredients were from the fridge. Pork kebabs, a-kind-of-Turkish-shish-kebab I suppose. We marinated the pork for a couple of hours in olive oil, lemon , garlic and crushed bay leaves, then threaded the cubes on skewers and grilled them. I also made a tomato, cucumber, red onion and black olive salad.

Tabbouleh

From Claudia Roden’s marvellous ‘Book of Middle Eastern Food‘ which has been recently updated. I will be keeping my dusty, fusty, beautiful 1968 copy though.

  • 25og Bulgar wheat
  • 5 tablespoons of very finely chopped spring or mild red onion
  • salt and black pepper
  • 50g ( about a cup and a half) of finely chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus extra if necessary)
  • 5 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (plus extra if necessary)

Soak the Bulgar wheat in cold water for half and hour, it will expand enormously. Drain it and squeeze out as much moisture as possible with your hands, then spread it out on a clean dry tea towel to dry further.

In a large bowl mix the Bulgar with the onion squeezing it with your hands so the onion penetrates the Bulgar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the parsley, mint, olive oil and lemon and mix well. taste and season, add more oil and lemon if you feel it is necessary, it should be distinctly lemony.

I am off to London tonight. I should really be packing and buying vast hunks of Pecorino Romano to tuck in my suitcases for my siblings or at least getting ready for my last lesson with the little monsters this afternoon. I shouldn’t be typing away. I am already thinking of lunch, the rest of the tabbouleh and the chickpeas that have soaked all night in preparation for some humus. We just need more olives and bread. I have a feeling this might be a bit of a Middle Eastern July here in Rome so I have left the Book of Middle Eastern Food open on the table ready for my return.

Now I am going to pack. Have a great weekend.

31 Comments

Filed under antipasti, food, grains, parsley, Rachel's Diary, recipes

31 responses to “Tabbouleh

  1. A rash of parsley could never be tedious. I wish I could make tabbouleh as good as that.

    • rachel

      HI Kath – that not what my brother said. I agree with you though. This is a nice recipe, really drying the bulgur helped and I think next time I will add even more parsley.

  2. yum, looks so delicious. we have good lebanese food in portland and eat it a lot. my first cassette tape ever was toots! i was a little kid and my uncle was horrified i didn’t own any music yet. he asked what kind of music i wanted. ‘ ummmm… reggae?’ i had no idea what it was. he bought me a toots and the maytals tape wrapped in newspaper, and i was on my way…:)

    • rachel

      Elena
      We have so much in common, if only we were down the road from each other, we could talk about parsley. lebansese food, knitting and toots over cups of coffee……..I hope you still have that tape!

  3. This recipe and book have been added to my to-do list. Looks wonderful

  4. Nice, interesting article, happy that Vincenzo’s concert was successful

  5. Beautiful post!

    Have a lovely weekend in London ;-)

  6. Love tabbouleh. I made a tabbouleh ish dish from Arabesque by Claudia Roden last night – bulgar, chickpeas, lemon, mint, parsley, olive oil to eat with lamb kebabs cooked on a barbecue on the balcony. It was delicious and perfect for this lovely start to July. Have a wonderful weekend. Gx

  7. Lavi

    yummm, brilliant! now i wanna make my hummus to wellcome you back!!!

  8. I’m one of them, one of those never terribly thrilled with parsley types. I’m feeling a bit conflicted. On one hand, I know what I like. On the other hand, I almost always like what you post. I think I need to revisit your parsley-related posts, select something, and give it another go. I hope you are enjoying London.

    • rachel

      You and my brother both Denise – this is the last I promise. This is true blog loyalty from you. Yes,thank you London was great. back now and wilting

  9. No experience of tedium here–I do love all the “parsley posts.” I too forget how much I enjoy the fresh flavors of Middle Eastern food, perfect really for summer heat.

    A lovely place–the cypress, the dusky light, the concert– can really transform a dining experience, elevate the food .

    Hope you had a great London visit.

    • rachel

      Glad you don’t think I am a parsley bore! Yes, the atmosphere did elevate the food, thankfully, I think it might have been pretty average were it not for the park. I had a great trip thankyou.

  10. Nadia

    No tomatoes in tabbouleh? Impossible.

    • rachel

      hello Nadia – impossible ! I assure you it is quite possible, you just don’t put them in.
      This is Clauda Roden’s basic recipe which does not include tomatoes but she does add that you can add tomatoes if you like (and cucumber if it is well drained). Maybe you have good recipe that isn’t too soggy with tomatoes, I would love to know it or have your advice – rach

  11. Lovely and refreshing. I’ve always wanted a mezzaluna.

  12. TD

    How lucky that you got to eat so much middle eastern food growing up! I am obviously jealous, ‘cos I loooovvvveeeee middle eastern food, especially the kebabs. I order a plate of tabbouleh every chance I get, but never made it at home. I am scared of bulgur. I don’t understand how I can eat a grain without cooking it. I also can’t figure out what kind of bulgur to buy. I bought two types and now they sit in my pantry waiting to be eaten some day.

    But all my fear aside, I loved this post…the recipe actually seems doable, if I can figure out what type of bulgur should be used. Hope you had fun in London!

    • rachel

      It is very doable. As for the type, Mine is a medium grind, parboiled, dried and partially de-branned. That is probably not very helpful and it’s probably different in the US. Maybe you could ask in your nearest middle Eastern shop.
      I had a lovely time in London thank you. Hope you are keeping cool

  13. Nadia

    Rachel, it’s just that I’ve never had tabbouleh without tomatoes. The flecks of red that you always see in photos are one of its defining features. You just chop the tomatoes up really small (as you do everything in tabbouleh) and they need to be ripe but not overripe, so that you get the flavour without excess wetness. What was CR thinking?

    • caroline

      Tabbouleh is one of the few occasions where it’s best to use the pale, firm tomatoes that are bred to survive long transport and off-season availability. You know,the ones that the foodies universally scorn. Though practically flavorless, they’re not overly juicy and their crunchiness lends itself well to this application. Of course, I have no idea if such a tomato even exists in Italy. :)

      • rachel

        Caroline Thank you for the great tip and I will try – Yes! such toms can be found in Italy, a little too often I fear!

  14. Hello! Just found your blog and was browsing your recipes. I have been meaning to make tabbouleh for a while, this is a helpful post! Will drop by again soon.

  15. Great dish, and love the photos! I might have to agree with Nadia though: tomatoes do give a juicy kick and fleshy texture to tabbouleh. Also, distinguish “bulgur” from “Bulgar”.

  16. Barb

    Thank you. This is lovely.
    I added some raw zucchini, carrot, and peas (cooked in salted water). Yum.

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