Friday, January 29, 2010

Tabbouleh - always a new dish

By Helen Klein

With its nutty taste, infused by savory herbs and citrus, Tabbouleh is a long-standing family favorite in my house.

A Middle Eastern specialty, it is usually made with a combination of mint and flat-leaf parsley which, in concert with the refreshing tartness of freshly squeezed lemon juice and the smooth unctuousness of extra virgin olive oil, give the plump grains of bulghur wheat a haunting flavor that is -- dare I say it -- downright addictive.

Nonetheless, good as it is in its traditional iteration, Tabbouleh hardly is a one-trick pony. Rather, it is something of a blank canvas, a concept that can be tweaked and played with, using whatever ingredients are at hand, to develop alternatives that are equally toothsome.

A case in point was my recent riff on classic Tabbouleh. I had already started soaking the bulghur wheat when I realized I had no mint. So, I rummaged in my crisper, looking for inspiration, and came out with a bunch of dill, another green herb with Mediterranean flair.

A little more searching through my vegetable drawer turned up some crispy kirby cucumbers, a bright orange sweet pepper and some stem tomatoes, as well as a bunch of the requisite parsley.

I was set.

The resulting salad was as flavorful as Tabbouleh is expected to be, but far brighter in color, because I chopped part of the pepper and cucumber finely and added it to the grains, along with finely chopped sweet onion and garlic. Diced cucumber, pepper and tomato were added as a garnish, providing a blast of both color and flavor, as well as varying the texture of the finished dish, which can be a light lunch main dish, or a side dish with grilled meats, sandwiches, even quiche.

Best of all, it can be made even in the middle of winter, bringing some piercing rays of Mediterranean sunshine into even the darkest, coldest days.

Tabbouleh with Dill


1 cup medium bulghur wheat
1 cup water
½ large sweet onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 orange, red or yellow pepper
2 kirby cucumbers, peeled
1 medium tomato
Juice of one lemon
Extra virgin olive oil to equal three times the amount of lemon juice, or more
½ cup chopped dill
½ cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Combine bulghur and water and leave to soak till bulghur has absorbed all the water, at least 1 hour.

Chop onion, garlic, ½ pepper and one cucumber. Combine with bulghur, chopped herbs, lemon juice and olive oil.

Stir well to blend, adding more olive oil slowly till a satisfactory balance of oil and lemon juice has been reached. Add salt and pepper to taste.Let sit to absorb flavors, at least one hour. Adjust flavorings.

Dice remaining colored pepper, cucumber and tomato.Before serving, garnish Tabbouleh mixture with diced vegetables.

Serves 4-6.


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