Tabbouleh, or what to do when you have bulgar wheat & fresh herbs

I've talked in a previous post about my favorite little corner store just down the street from me.  Every now and again there's an unusual culinary find - something I would never expect to see there.

On a recent trip, I spotted a bag of organic bulgar wheat.  I've been wanting to experiment with Tabbouleh recipes for a while, so I popped it into my basket.  Jyrkki smiled when he saw the package, and told me it was the Herttoniemen ruokapiiri's gift to me.  Apparently they'd had it hanging around in the shop for a while - unsold because nobody knew what to do with it.  So here's my gift back to the folks at my favorite corner shop, and to you, dear blog perusers:  Tabbouleh.  The best way to utilize the wonder that is bulgar wheat.   Now is a great time of year to make it, too, especially if you have a garden, because fresh herbs are at their finest right now.

Tabbouleh is a traditional Arab dish, often served with meze.  It is traditionally made with bulgar wheat, though some recent variations use couscous.  I've seen tabbouleh recipes using quinoa, and I've tried it with couscous as well - it works as a stand-in, particularly if you can find whole wheat couscous, but really, sometimes the real thing is what you need to make a recipe stand out, and this is one of those times.  Seek out bulgar wheat if you can find it, as the texture really is better in this recipe.

According to our friends over at Wikipedia, tabbouleh is originally from Lebanon and Syria and has since grown in popularity and is now loved throughout the Arab world.  Homemakers in Baghdad originally scoffed a bit at the dish, apparently thinking it was the cheapskate's way to use less meat.  Now it definitely holds its own in the culinary world:  the dish has made its way to other parts of the world along with Arabs who have settled beyond their native countries, and through world travelers who have brought as souvenirs the flavors and food experiences home with them.  So beloved is this dish, there is even a series of World Records held by those who have made the largest quantity of tabbouleh at one time.  The current honor is won on November 13, 2009 and is held by Yaldy Association at Alaayen Elementary School in the Arab town of Shefa'-Amr in Israel.  It weighed 4,324 kg or 9,532 lbs 12 oz.  Now that's a lot of salad.

Tabbouleh:  Lots of bits and chunks.  Full of fabulous fresh herbs.  A tang of lemon.  Oh my.
There are many, many variations of Tabbouleh out there.  Some include tomatoes, some include cucumbers and some include both, as mine does.  Some use more herbs than bulgar wheat - I actually like the texture, flavor and balance provided by putting a substantial amount of bulgar wheat in this salad.  There is garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and fresh herbs - definitely parsley and then some complementary herb like mint or basil (I prefer the former).  My herb pots on the balcony are overflowing with herbs right now, so a little trim will only do them some good.  Add a little pepper and some ground cumin if wish (highly recommended - it adds a subtle depth).  I used chicken broth instead of water, which is definitely not traditional, but do as you like.  You can serve it up immediately, or let the flavors blend together overnight.  It makes a great picnic or potluck dish and is great as a side dish or a main course.

Let's get chopping.


Step 1:
2 cups / 4 dl chicken broth or water if you prefer the more traditional way
1 cup of bulgar wheat
Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a small pot.  Turn off the heat, add the bulgar wheat, put the lid on it, and let it sit for 30 minutes.

Step 2:
Meanwhile prepare the remaining ingredients:
4 medium size tomatoes, chopped, to equal 1.5 cups / 3 dl
1 large cucumber, peeled and chopped, about 1.5 cups / 3 dl
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
juice of one lemon to equal 1/4 cup / 1/2 dl
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Step 3:
Transfer the cooked bulgar wheat to a medium size bowl and fluff with a fork.  Add the remaining ingredients and toss well with a fork to fully combine.  Serve immediately if you wish, or for the best flavor, wait at least an hour or up to overnight before serving to allow the flavors to blend.

Serves 6.

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