Tabbouleh is perfect for summer meals. Made with handfuls of peppery parsley, cooling mint and cucumbers, and a sunny lemon-olive oil dressing, it deserves a spot on your picnic menu.
The Lebanese claim tabbouleh as their national dish. The simple salad, though, is a staple throughout the Arab world. It’s usually tucked into any meze spread, alongside the hummus, olives, yogurt and flatbreads.
Authentic tabbouleh is really more of an herb salad with a little bit of bulgur added for texture. For our main-course tabbouleh, I’m taking some liberties and adding chickpeas, olives and walnuts that might well have been served alongside a traditional salad. The proportion of bulgur is increased for a heartier, more filling dish. I also like to use the food processor to make the parsley and mint into a pesto-like dressing that coats the grains.
Bulgur is a great grain to get to know. It’s been prized for thousands of years in the Middle East, where wheat originated. It’s a chopped and precooked form of wheat that cooks quickly, and can make a fantastic swap for all your white-rice dishes. Pilafs, soups, salads and other dishes benefit from its distinctive chewiness and toasty flavor.
In this recipe, you’ll cook the bulgur briefly on the stovetop. If you have more time, you can also simply pour boiling water over the bulgur and let it soak for an hour before draining it. The most common form of bulgur at the grocery store or food co-op is medium-grain. If you make a trip to a Middle Eastern market, you will find several sizes of bulgur, from tiny to large. If you try one of those, the cooking time will vary slightly.
If you are avoiding gluten, you can always cook a cup of quinoa or brown rice for your tabbouleh. Simply follow the package instructions and chill it before making the salad. If you want even more protein, crumble feta over the salad, or add an extra can of chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.