Traditional tabbouleh is a perfect salad for spring and summer. Fine bulgur (wheat) is macerated in fresh herbs and vegetable juices, seasoned with spices, dredged with olive oil, and infused with lemon juice.
It’s a perfect salad to go with grilled meat and vegetables or served as a meal on its own.
Tabbouleh is an iconic salad in the Middle East and it’s variations are endless.
What is in traditional tabbouleh salad?
Even though the main ingredient in tabbouleh is bulgur, the star of this dish is parsley. In an authentic tabbouleh recipe, finely chopped vibrant green parsley always dominates and balances out the nuttiness of the bulgur and the brightness of the tomatoes.
As you can see now, this is a salad made with bulgur, parsley, and tomatoes. But that’s not all.
The version of the tabbouleh that my family makes also has cucumbers, mint, lettuce, and scallions.
What is bulgur?
Wheat was one of the first cultivated agricultural crops of the Fertile Crescent and in thousands of years of cultivation, people found various ways to process and use the wheat, to make it more convenient and accessible. Bulgur is a wheat berry parboiled, sundried, and cracked. Bulgur wheat comes in different sizes from fine to super coarse and each size calls for different uses. And since it is already par-cooked it is very convenient to use for a quick meal. It is used for making pilafs, koftas, salads, soup and much more.
What goes into traditional tabbouleh salad?
Typically for tabbouleh, you use the fine or medium-fine bulgur. All it needs to revitalize and reconstitute is soaking in warm water or tomato juice. It only takes 15-20 minutes soaking and the bulgur is ready to eat. Don’t use too much liquid for soaking. You want the bulgur to have some bite since it still has to absorb all the juices from the vegetables and herbs.
Yes, tomatoes are important and they need to be ripe and flavorful, and finely diced. I like to use this onion dicer to get even dices. I cut the tomatoes in half and put the skin side up and cut-side on the blade. It takes a little bit of force to chop the tomatoes, but it’s worth it. I get very uniformed and small diced tomatoes.
If the cucumbers are tender I leave the skin on. Peel the skin if you like the cucumbers without skin. I use the same onion dicer for the cucumber. I cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and again long enough to fit on the blade.
Use both white and green parts of the onion. Try to find thin and slender scallions that have bright green shoots. If they are thick, score them lengthwise and then thinly chop them.
You will need a lot of fresh parsley. Maybe a bunch of two. Use the leaves and tender stems. Chop the parsley as thin as possible with a chef’s knife. I don’t use the food processor to chop parsley to avoid unnecessary bruising but chopping with a food processor or herb chopper is always an option.
This is optional but I like mint in my tabbouleh. It adds playfulness to the salad.
Salt, pepper, paprika, sumac, Aleppo peppers, cayenne pepper. You can use all of these or be selective.
Lemon juice is also an important ingredient, and you will need a good quarter-cup or more. And don’t use bottled lemon juice. You need fresh squeezed, full body lemon juice to add liveliness and marry all the other ingredients.
Use good quality oil. Sometimes olive oil can be too strong. Use an olive oil and grape seed oil combination for a milder flavor.
Use lettuce leaves for serving. The crunchy, juicy lettuce leaves are perfect scooping vessel to serve and eat the tabbouleh salad.
How to serve the tabbouleh?
The best way to serve it is on a bed of lettuce leaves or tender grape leaves. The leaves are not just a garnish, they are part of the eating experience. You use the leaves to scoop the salad or wrap it inside.
I also like to serve tabbouleh appetizer style stuffed inside a small tomatoes.
Authentic Springy Tabbouleh
- 1/4 cup dry bulgur wheat
- 3 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems chopped fine
- 2-3 tomatoes diced small
- 1-2 cucumbers diced
- 4 scallions sliced ¼ cup
- 1/4 cup lemon juice more to taste
- 6 mint leaves chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- In a small bowl cover the bulgur with 1⁄2 cup of hot water and ½ teaspoon of salt, cover and set aside to hydrate.
- Dice the tomatoes and cucumbers and place in a large bowl.
- Chop the scallions and parsley as finely as you can and add to the bowl.
- Check the bulgur, it should be fluffed and doubled in volume. Add it to the rest of the ingredients. Toss all together and season with salt and spices. Add the lemon juice and give it a stir. Drizzle with the olive oil and lastly, chop the mint and add it to the salad.
- Chill the salad in the fridge for a couple of hours. The bulgur will absorb the additional juices from the vegetables and greens.
- If there is too much liquid in the salad you can drain it to prevent sogginess. Adjust the seasoning and add lemon juice to taste.
- Serve on a bed of whole leaf lettuce, with lavash or pita bread.