It’s the 4th of July holiday weekend and summer is definitely here to stay for a while. And everyone knows that the 4th of July means tabouli, right? No? Well maybe not yet, but it might in future. Because this beautiful, herb-y, juicy salad is like a dip in a cool stream on a hot day. Serve it cold from the fridge at home, or from a cooler to your picnic table in the park. I promise you won’t regret it.
They say this salad is originally from the mountains of Syria and Lebanon, although it is eaten all over the Middle East now as well as many other parts of the world. It is very popular in Brazil, where we have a lot of immigrants from both those countries. My mom made it several times a year, and for some reason, while she was living with us, she made it a couple of times during the 4th of July weekend. And it was such a refreshing dish, I got kind of hooked into doing the same.
Now remember, this salad is eaten all over the world now, so there are bound to be a variety of different preparation choices. I have seen some insist on lemon instead of lime. Others claim there should be no cucumber. Some say flat leaf instead of curly leaf parsley. I’m happy to eat it however it is prepared for me. But when I make it, I do it this way because it reminds me of my mother, and of growing up, and because it’s so yummy!
And here are some key tips
You can find bulgur in most Arabic markets or in natural food stores. Bulgur comes in different levels of coarseness. For this salad, the fine works best. It needs to be soaked in water to soften. 5 – 10 minutes should be enough, but then it should be drained completely. You may have to squeeze the moisture out with your hands. You want it to look loose like in the picture above, leaving no water in the bottom of the bowl.
Remove most of the stems from the parsley and chop into a relatively fine mass. The key to this salad is the ease of scooping like-sized ingredients and the mouth feel when similarly sized components blend together in every bite. For that reason, don’t chop the parsley too finely so that it is consistent with the other ingredients. Keep that in mind as you chop up the rest of the veggies. Try to make them equally small and even.
Tabouli should look like a lovely, loose mixture of goodness on your plate, not all wet and soggy. Tomatoes, bless their juicy little hearts, will do whatever they can to trip you up here. For that reason, start with ripe but firm Roma tomatoes. I then cut them in half and use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds and soft connecting flesh inside. If you need to, use a paper towel to dry the insides if they are still too wet. Use only the skin and outside flesh.
I like to use English cucumbers because they have far fewer seeds. But even then, you want to cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds here as well. Removing the seeds is definitely required if using a regular cucumber. It is customary to peel the cucumber for this salad.
Most tabouli recipes call for green onions, or young scallions. I admit to a rather unusual love affair with sweet onion, so I substitute diced sweet onions for a couple of the scallions. But make it however you like. As for the mint, I use sweet mint because, for me, it has more flavor than spearmint. Because mint flavors vary the exact quantity is hard to pin down. But I used as much as in the picture of the ingredients above and then actually added a bit more. You want to taste it, but it should not overpower the parsley.
Here’s the deal. Herbs tend to wilt pretty quickly at room temperature, especially in the desert where the dry air tends to pull moisture out of everything. And the hallmark of this salad is the vibrancy of the ingredients. I have found it really helps to use a large mixing bowl to facilitate dressing and tossing the salad at the end. I keep the bowl in the fridge and add ingredients to it as I finish chopping them. That way, everything stays cool and fresh. Look at that beauty! Just a few steps left!
- Using a large spoon or spatula, gently toss the ingredients before seasoning. You should be gentle because you don’t want to bruise the tomatoes and cucumbers into releasing too much moisture.
- I then sprinkle a couple of pinches of the salt and stir.
- Then I add half the lime juice and half the olive oil and stir.
- After tasting, I add salt, lime juice, and olive oil, tasting regularly until it is just right.
- Then refrigerate for about 20 – 30 minutes to let the flavors set and so that it is nice and chilled for serving.
Look how pretty! And oh, so good! Don’t get caught up in the fact that it is of a specific regional cuisine. This is so tasty, it is a beautiful complement to any meal. It plays just as well with hot dogs and hamburgers for the 4th as it does with kibbeh ( a recipe for another day)!
This salad refrigerates well and can be stored and re-served for a couple of days. Some think the flavors are even better the next day. I think it is amazing every day!
Wishing you a happy and a safe holiday weekend, everyone!
- ½ cup dry fine bulgur, soaked and drained
- 2 bunches curly leaf parsley
- 4 firm Roma tomatoes
- 1 large English cucumber
- 4 large green onions, or
- 2 green onions and ⅓ cup diced sweet onion
- 15-20 fresh mint leaves
- ½ cup lime juice
- ¼ to ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Pour water over the bulgur until well covered and soak for 5 - 10 minutes. Drain for several minutes while you chop the veggies. Before adding to the salad, squeeze out as much remaining moisture as possible with your hands.
- Remove most of the stems and chop the parsley, being careful not to chop too finely.
- Cut tomatoes in half and use a spoon to scoop out and discard the inside seeds and connective flesh. Using only the firm outside flesh with skin, chop into small pieces.
- Peel and de-seed the cucumber and chop into small pieces.
- Sliver the green onions and mint.
- Combine the ingredients into a large bowl and gently stir to combine evenly.
- Add half of the lime juice and olive oil and salt. Toss and add remaining lime juice, olive oil, and salt in increments, tasting in between until salad is to taste.
- Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes for flavor to set and for the salad to chill.