Authentic Lebanese Tabbouleh Recipe

I always smirk a bit when I see “tambouli salad” in a deli case or on a salad bar here in the United States. Nice try, but that’s far from authentic Lebanese tabbouleh. The proportions are all wrong — parsley should dominate, not the bulgur. Maybe we’re just not used to eating so much parsley. This Mediterranean herb is often dismissed as a table garnish.  But parsley is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in vitamins A (beta carotene), C and K, and packed with health-promoting flavonoids. Plus, you’ll never come close to the tabbouleh I’ve  enjoyed in Lebanon (pictured here) or the version I’ve learned to make myself under the watchful eye of my Lebanese mother-in-law if you skimp on the parsley.  img_21554

Tabbouleh is one of the most famous of all Lebanese dishes.  In fact, this beloved traditional salad is a source of national pride. There’s even a national celebration of tabbouleh each summer in Lebanon.  Here’s a poster promoting National Tabbouleh Day in Beiret, which is held at Souk el Tayeb, Lebanon’s first farmers’ market.

tabbouli_poster2

The methods of making tabbouleh vary according to regional or family traditions.  But like the Lebanese flag, the basic ingredients and colors never change — the green, red and white are always present.  The word tabbouleh comes from the Arabic word Mtabali, which means seasoned.  I typically only use salt as my seasoning, but some people in Lebanon prefer a version with additional seasonings. Haalo from Australia (Cook Almost Anything)  features a tabbouleh recipe that includes allspice, cinnamon and pepper (and includes some great photos).

I’ve seen Americanized versions of tabbouleh made with couscous — but resist that.  You really need bulgur (referred to as burghul  in Lebanon), which is a wonderful fiber-rich ingredient — perhaps the original whole grain.  You can easily find these cracked wheat kernels in most supermarkets now, or try Middle Eastern markets or natural food stores.  I’ve also seen garlic added to some U.S. tabbouleh recipes, but that would be laughable in Lebanon.  Tabbouleh is meant to clean the palate and freshen the breath between bites of spicy, garlicky food — so it’s never to contain garlic itself.

dsc_06952

Ingredients

1/2 cup bulgur, fine cracked wheat
juice of 4-5 lemons
3 bunches fresh parsley, finely chopped
handful fresh mint, finely sliced (optional)
3 medium tomatoes, diced
6 green onions, thinly sliced (with green stems)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt (to taste)
romaine leaves, for serving

There are various grades of bulgur — fine, medium or coarse.  Save the coarse bulgur for making pilafs.  You’ll need fine or medium for tabbouleh (I typically use fine or #1 bulgur).  I’ve found two different versions of fine bulgur in the Middle Eastern markets in Chicago; you can see that one is much darker than the other. Even though bulgur is considered a “whole grain,” a small part of the bran is sometimes removed during the drying and cracking of the wheat kernel.  You can see the differences in color below, the version that is darker includes more of the bran. I used the lighter version for today’s tabbouleh so the specks of white would be more visible.

dsc_0680dsc_06751

The recipe I’ve learned to make from my mother-in-law Karam starts with soaking the bulgur in fresh lemon juice (about the juice of 2 lemons). Please don’t use bottled lemon juice — it makes a difference!  Let the bulgur soak for 20 minutes or more until all of the liquid is absorbed and the bulgur appears dry. Then fluff with a fork.  Some people in Lebanon only rinse the fine bulgur and then dry it — no softening is needed for the fine grade.  If you’re using medium bulgur, it’s best to cover it with hot water and let it soften for 30 minutes or longer.  Just be sure the water is all absorbed and you squeeze out any excess liquid.  The bulgur needs to be dry, nothing is worse than soupy bulgur.  I often let the bulgur soak in my mixing bowl while I prepare the parsley.

The most time-consuming part of making tabbouleh is preparing the parsley — washing, drying and hand chopping.  But I must admit that I’ve found ways to successfully cut corners.  In Lebanon, flat-leaf parsley is typically used and it’s carefully sliced by hand to create hair thin and crisp slivers. Over chopping can bruise the parsley and create a limp, mushy salad. I know this is not so authentic, but I pull out my Cuisinart.  I find that if I use curly parsley instead of flat, it stands up better to the food processor.  But first, you must thoroughly wash the parsley.  I soak the bunches in cold water and pull off the stems, then rinse several times in a colander.  The parsley must be extremely dry before putting it in the food processor, so I use a salad spinner to speed the process.  Work in batches and gently pulse the Cuisinart until the parsley is coarsely chopped.  Don’t keep it running and over-process, the parsley can quickly turn to mush.

dsc_06832

Pour the coarsely chopped parsley into your mixing bowl in batches, pick out the random stems that may appear.  If you’re adding mint (I don’t always), thinly slice by hand and toss into the parsley. Add the diced tomatoes and sliced green onions and mix well.  Squeeze the remaining 2-3 lemons on the mixture, toss, and thedsc_0691n add the olive oil.  Mixture should be moist but not drenched.  Add salt to taste, toss well and enjoy.

Traditionally, tabbouleh is a part of mezze (appetizers) — eaten by hand scooped up with a romaine lettuce leaf, white cabbage or fresh vine leaves.

Here’s a great article about the right and wrong way to make tabbouleh from Anissa Helou. And check out Gherkins  & Tomatoes for a bibliography of Arab cooking.

Enjoy this?

share it

Discuss

0 Comments

  • Nancy Edelstein

    Karam’s recipe is the best!!! I make it all the time and everyone loves it. I hope you, Walid, Sami and Layla are doing well. Come visit when you’re in the neighborhood. Nancy

  • Pingback: Nutrition Unplugged | Singing the Praises of Tabbouleh

  • Leszek

    Wonderful recipe !
    Its elegant recipe a long time looking at Tabbouleh.
    Greetings from Polish.
    Leszek
    PS Sorry for language mistakes LS.

  • http://www.NourRD.com Nour

    Thanks for the recipe! I agree about the proportions in non-authentic tabbouleh. Someone told me once she can’t handle too much parsley. I wonder if it’s an acquired taste. I once made stuffed grape leaves for my friends and they couldn’t handle the taste.

  • http://www.alishanewton.unusualpassions.com/ Alisha N

    I keep coming back to this! Great recipe.

  • Danielle

    Thank you so much for this recipe!

    I was at a friend’s home for a party. He is Lebanese and his Mother and Father were in town for the celebration. His Mother did all the cooking. Oh my! This Italian girl ate SO much. It was just great food. They served Tabbouleh and yes, I thought, where is the cracked wheat? Definitely different from your typical American deli’s version. I loved it and being diabetic, I need to stay away from large quantities of grains. I’m so thrilled you’ve posted this authentic and healthier version. I’m headed out to get some green onions and mint! Thank you again.

  • Valeria

    Wow–I had lost my receipe given by a Jordanian friend’s mother some 35 yrs ago and the “stuff” they sell here in U.S. is just never the same, Yours is the absolutely most delicious and authentic I have found. Thanks

  • Pingback: Lessons Learned at a Lebanese Lunch | Nutrition Unplugged

  • Pingback: Authentic Lebanese Fattoush Salad Recipe | Nutrition Unplugged

  • Pingback: Authentic Lebanese Fattoush Salad Recipe « Health Fitness Support

  • http://Mayormom.net Mayormom6

    Thank you for this beautiful and authentic recipe. I am going to blog about my experience making your recipe-which is by far the most genuine Lebanese recipe for real tabbouleh that I’ve found.
    Catch my blog later at http://www.mayormom.net and again, thanks.

  • Pingback: Turkish Delight « tasty nom nom

  • Bob Hoel

    I have found a solution for drying the parsley. After washing and you have gotten the majority of the water off it by salad spinner, paper towels, kitchen towel or such, take a hair dryer on a low setting like you would a hand dryer and blow the parsley the rest of the way dry. Works perfectly. Don’t hold the dryer too close or the heat will wilt the parsley. You don’t want that.

  • Pingback: Tabbouleh – Fresh Parsley Salad | Austin Fresh

  • Pingback: Christmas Traditions around the World » Wetzel Languages

  • http://www.psychoaktiv.org Ben

    For how many persons is this recipe supposed to be?

  • Adam Stilwell

    Oh, yeah! That looks amazing. I’m fortunate enough to be dating someone from Beirut, and I’m happy to say this has sparred me from trying that horrible imitation stuff I see here and there. This looks great. I’m going to make it this week!

  • Shahlah

    Hi,

    Thanks for this recipe………I was looking at all the others and was getting frustrated because like you said, they are not “Lebanese style”. Adding ingredients that don’t belong I know what you mean (gave someone a recipe for Ma2loobeh and they put peas as the vegetable…PEAS!!!!!!. Anyhow thanks again….I hope one day I can revisit Lebanon..BEAUTIFUL.

  • DTKenmo

    I found this great tool at a liquidation place… herb scissors. Multi blade scissors that make shot work of chopping the parsley & mint for this. previously I had rolled up the herbs in lettuce leaves & sliced thin with a knife. Just Google “herb scissors” and you’ll find some, although probably a little pricier than the liquidation place I got mine.

    Great recipe, BTW!

Copyright 2014 Nutrition Unplugged
Disclosure
Design by cre8d