Recently, I have been positively flattened by a cold virus that had left me with no energy and enthusiasm beyond watching episodes of Parenthood. The only positive thing during this brief illness is that I lost 5 pounds, mostly due to a lack of interest in eating, something I so rarely have that I need to look at this as a jump-start to a diet! For the time being anyway.
I’m finally vertical and after 5 days staking out my territory on the couch with mugs of tea, and little plates of toast and butter, the first thing that came to my cooking mind was a robust bowl of tabbouleh, glistening with lemon and olive oil, and bright with the energizing flavors of summer — something that is still a long way off in Maine and New Hampshire.
Many years ago (35 to be exact), when I was in my senior year at the University of Buffalo, I borrowed from the library Cooking in a Small Kitchen, newly written by Arthur Schwartz. This small cookbook greatly enhanced my slowly emerging culinary life, so much so that I bought a copy which I still have and use to this day. Up until Arthur’s cookbook, my concoctions consisted of creating no-bake cookies in my dorm room and reheating in my toaster oven spanakopita given to me by my Greek grandmother that I would bring back on the plane from NYC (those were the days — I literally would get on a $19 People’s Express flight with two large and bulging Bloomingdale shopping bags of prepared foods from my Irish and Greek grandmothers – enough to feed my whole dorm floor and keep me alive for another semester).
Anyway, I digress. You probably just want to know about the tabbouleh. We can talk about my grandmothers’ phenomenal cooking at another time.
So here it is. In thirty five years of making this delicious recipe, I haven’t strayed too far from the original, although, as Arthur says, I too, like a tabbouleh that is herbaceous and lemony, even more than he does, or did, and I have increased the amounts for both. Additionally, I much prefer fine organic bulgur wheat which unfortunately is harder to find in a conventional or natural foods grocery. I’ve looked for it in Portland in all the obvious places and have come up empty handed, so until I head to Boston or New York again, I can easily get in on Amazon. So, yes, now I have 8 lbs. or organic non-GMO fine-cracked bulgur, enough to last two years or longer for me, unless I do some serious entertaining. Portland peeps, if you want to buy some off of me, hit me up!
Tabbouleh, of course, can be eaten all by itself, or as part of a vegan or vegetarian mezze platter that includes a variety of olives, hummus (here is a great recipe I wrote about), stuffed grape leaves, marinated veggies, baba ghanoush and cubes of feta. Whether or not you make most of these things, or purchase them is up to you, but it’s a fine spread and one you should consider for your next gathering of two or twenty. I also like to serve tabbouleh as a side to simple grilled fish or chicken.
Keep in mind that bulgur wheat is already cooked – all you need to do is soak it before using. It’s easiest to find medium-cracked wheat, and if that’s what you have, you will want to increase the soaking time to 50 minutes to an hour. It should be tender, not at all hard, but definitely not mushy. The only way to know for sure is to try a little bit.
One last piece of advice – that you must take….the chopping of the parsley and mint is not something you can accomplish in your food processor! So very sorry for this sad news, but you must use a knife and get chopping. Think of it as culinary meditation.
To energize you with a hit of summer, I hope you will take the time to make this refreshing salad.
- 1 cup fine-cracked bulgur wheat
- 1 ½ cups quartered and sliced pickling or European cucumber
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt, or more to taste
- 1 ½ cups sliced scallions, both green and white parts (about 8 scallions)
- 2 cups chopped fresh curly parsley leaves (about 1 large bunch)
- ¾ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
- 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste (2 large lemons)
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ cups diced fresh tomatoes (about 2 large plum tomatoes)
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
- Soak the bulgur wheat in ample cold water to cover for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender. The only way to determine that is to taste a bit of it.
- Meanwhile, place the diced cucumbers in a colander, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and toss to combine. Set aside. Place the scallions in a large roomy bowl and with a pestle (or a potato masher which does the job almost as easily), pound the scallions lightly to slightly crush them and extract some of their juices.
- When the bulgur is ready, pour it through a large-sized fine mesh strainer. Take a handful of the bulgur and squeeze it between your hands to extract as much water as possible which makes it light and fluffy. Release it into the bowl with the scallions, and repeat with the remaining bulgur.
- Add the cucumbers, parsley, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, tomatoes, remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, and pepper and with a rubber spatula, mix gently until combined. Taste, and add more lemon juice, salt or pepper, if desired. Let rest for 15 minutes or so before serving, to allow flavors to develop. Freshest and brightest tasting if served on the same day. Store unused portions in an airtight container in the fridge, for up to two days, where the vegetables will get softer, but it is still delicious and edible.