Sunday, August 23, 2015

A summer salad with a Mediterranean flair … Tabbouleh

For the past two years, my August cooking post has featured a summer salad. I decided to keep the tradition going and share another summer salad that takes advantage of the vegetables and herbs that are widely available from backyard gardens this time of year.
This year, I am featuring tabbouleh, a salad with Mediterranean/Middle Eastern origins that is becoming more popular here in the United States. Depending on the specific region of the Mediterranean or Middle East, tabbouleh takes on its own regional variations. The recipe I will be sharing here is somewhat of a conglomeration of multiple recipes. We enjoy this recipe, and I hope that you will, too. 
Before I proceed to the recipe itself, here is a little background on some of the key ingredients …
Bulgur - Bulgur is a Turkish word and refers to the hulled kernel of wheat, also called the groat. It is typically sold parboiled and dried. I've found bulgur wheat both in the grains and the organic foods sections of the grocery store. Here's a picture of what I usually buy, and here is a picture of a couple of large pots of bulgur parboiling in Turkey.

Bulgur is widely consumed throughout the Middle East, extending north into some of the Balkan states and east into India. Bulgur is a common ingredient in a number of both sweet and savory dishes. It is high in fiber and protein.
Parsley - Parsley is a well-known herb that is native to the Mediterranean region, but is widely used throughout the world. It is frequently used as a garnish, but is also used to flavor soups and stews. Parsley is also a great source of flavonoids and antioxidants. Parsley is also a home remedy for indigestion. If you have ever read Peter Rabbit, you may remember that after Peter had gorged himself on Mr. Macgregor's vegetables and was "feeling rather sick," he went to look for some parsley.
Mint - The good news about mint is that it is an herb that is very easy to grow. The bad news about mint is that it is an herb that can be very difficult to control. Their root system sends out runners which cause this herb to expand very rapidly. Consider using a closed container as shown in the picture if you want to limit the expansion of your mint. I grow what I term as "regular" or "plain" mint, peppermint, and spearing in my herb garden. The "regular" mint is what I use in tabbouleh. I like the flavor that it adds. Mint is also said to be able to relieve stomach aches.

Now here are the list of ingredients and directions:
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 1/2 cup boiling water
1 bunch of parsley (roughly 3 cups chopped) - see note below
1 bunch of green onions, sliced (include white and some green parts) - also see note below
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1 large cucumber, seeded and chopped
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
black pepper

1. Place the bulgur wheat in a large mixing bowl. Pour the boiling water over the wheat, cover, and let stand for about one hour so that the wheat can absorb the water. I have Tupperware mixing bowl that is probably over 30 years old. I like to use it for this recipe because the lid closes securely and helps retain the heat from the boiling water.
2. While the wheat is absorbing the water, chop up the parsley, onions, mint leaves, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. Here are a few notes regarding these ingredients:
Chopped herbs and veggies for tabbouleh
  • Parsley: Sometimes the amount of parsley I end up using depends on what I have available in the garden. If I am buying a bunch of parsley from the grocery store, I just use the whole amount unless I have a planned purpose for the rest of it. More often than not, if I don't use all of the parsley, I just end up throwing it away so I might as well just use it all up.
  • Onion: If you want to substitute a medium onion from the garden, go right ahead. I've used small-medium red or yellow onions, and they work just fine. Keep in mind that my garden onions are much smaller than the ones you buy in the store. Mine are typically larger than a golf ball, but smaller than a tennis ball.
  • Mint: I typically go out to the garden and pick a few stems. I then pick off the leaves, chop them up and decide if the amount looks like roughly 1/4 cup.
  • Cucumber: Go with what you have in the garden - two small cukes or a medium and a small are just fine.
  • Tomatoes: For me, this is a great way to use the multiple cherry tomatoes that tend to accumulate this time of year. If I am making tabbouleh in the "off-season," I will just buy a container of cherry or grape tomatoes at the store. If you don't have cherry tomatoes in the garden, no problem. Just chop up 2 or 3 medium-sized tomatoes. I would advise doing what you can to remove the seeds to avoid having your salad get too juicy. The halved cherry tomatoes tend to do just fine with the seeds left in.
3. After the wheat has adequately absorbed the water, lightly "fluff" it, and stir in the vegetables and herbs.
4. Prepare the dressing by mixing together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir these ingredients together, pour over the salad, and mix well.
5. Enjoy with other Mediterranean or Middle Eastern foods such as hummus, pita bread, or gyros.