Monday, February 9, 2009


I can't make tabbouleh without thinking of my roommate Marie laboring over many bunches of parsley, chopping with a knife that looked like it had a previous career as a letter opener. Marie was my French roommate in Cairo, and our knives (like everything else in our kitchen) were at least 50 years old and had never been sharpened. They probably weren't good enough to even bother sharpening to begin with.

But the dull little knife didn't deter Marie from making tabbouleh at least once a month to bring to expat potlucks all over Cairo. I remember watching her pull all the leaves off the bunches of parsley and mint with what seemed like infinite patience to me at the time. Then the slow process of chopping the herbs and the tomatoes and onions. Making tabbouleh seemed to be the ultimate labor of love.

I will never forget my awe when I came back to the states and got really sharp knives as a gift. Cooking became so much easier, it is unbelievable. And making tabbouleh became a much more manageable process.

Tabbouleh is one of my absolute favorite salads. Not only is it delicious, but you can keep the leftovers, and they even taste better the next day. (I dare you to try that with a regular lettuce salad that has the dressing on it. G-ross.)

This is more a how-to for making tabbouleh than it is a recipe, because the amounts are somewhat fluid. I recommend preparing all of the separate parts and adding them to the parsley gradually until you have the taste and proportions you like. I usually like a lower bulghur-to-parsley ratio than the pictures show, but I added my bulghur all at once by accident, then realized I had a little too much.

Idon't use a food processor to chop my parsley because I'm afraid of ending up with pesto. If you really can't bear the thought of chopping the parsley by hand (although a sharp chef knife makes this pretty easy) be sure to only pulse the food processor a few times.

Serves 6 to 8 as a side.

2 large bunches of parsley
1 bunch of mint
1/2 cup fine bulghur wheat
1 1/2 plum tomatoes, or 1 large salad tomato
1/2 large white onion
juice from 1 1/2 lemons
2 to 3 tbs. olive oil

-Place the bulghur in a small sauce pan with 1 cup of water over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. The bulghur is done when it is soft and has absorbed the water. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
-While the bulghur cooks, take the first bunch of parsley and start to separate the leaves from the stems*, discarding the stems (or saving them to throw in a stock). On a large cutting board, using a sharp chef's knife, roughly chop the parsley. Run the knife through it in one direction, then run the knife through it in the other direction. Push the parsley back into the center and repeat.
-Put the first bunch of chopped parsley into a serving bowl, then repeat the process with the second bunch.
-Remove the mint leaves from their stems, and chop them. Chop the tomatoes and onion.
-Add the bulghur, mint, tomatoes, and onion to the parsley in the serving bowl. (If you think you have too much of any part, add it gradually).
-Squeeze the juice from one lemon into the salad. Add 2 tbs. of olive oil. Toss the salad.
-Add more lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

*You don't have to get every little piece of stem off, but try to at least get the large center stems from each sprig. I've seen tabbouleh made with the stems also thrown in, but I prefer it to be mostly leaves.

1 comment:

muddywaters said...

I love the first few paragraphs of this piece. Your writing really captured that moment in the past.

I made Tabbouleh for the first time Saturday night. It was a beet tabbouleh, and while some in my family could have done without the beets, we loved tabbouleh.

We might need to try your version. I can see this being a staple in our household during the summer.

Thanks for sharing,