While Americans use parsley as a flavor accent, the Lebanese turn it into a delightful salad called tabbouleh (pronounced “tab-boo-lee”). The dish originated in the mountains of Syria and Lebanon and dates back to the Middle Ages. Lebanese mothers tell their daughters they’ll not find a good husband unless they know how to make a proper tabbouleh. (Note: For any who are looking to charm a Lebanese husband, the parsley should be sliced, not chopped.)
Traditional tabbouleh is primarily parsley mixed with bulgur wheat, or couscous, especially when purchased at an American deli. The most authentic recipes call for using a fine variety of bulgar wheat, but it’s hard to find.
Some recipes allow for a rainbow of ingredients, all chopped small: peppers, cabbage, mushrooms, peas, olives, corn, broccoli, squash, carrot and celery. This would not work for the purists, who insist that tabbouleh is a parsley salad, not a vegetable dish.
Spicing it Up
As to the spices, some recipes use none, settling instead for just a simple lemon juice and olive oil dressing. Mideastern food guru, Yotam Ottolenghi, uses a Baharat spice mix, an all-purpose seasoning called for in Middle Eastern cooking. It varies by region, but could include allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg coriander, cumin, cloves, black pepper, sumac, saffron, and ginger, but no salt. It is not hot. There are recipes on line for making your own Baharat blend if you like to do that sort of thing. It is kind of fun, but unnecessary.
The traditional 7-Spice Lebanese blend (black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg) is also a good mix for this salad. Alas, I used only a bit of sumac, because it was what I had at the farm, though I had some Zaatar and that would’ve given some oomph as well.
Dishing Up Tabbouleh
How do you eat so classic and revered a dish? You can use a fork, scoop it up with a romaine leaf, or stuff it inside a pita pocket. But try it you must! Admittedly, it will never replace the carby, comfy taste of mashed potatoes. But tabbouleh is such a light and healthy dish; it will make you feel good all over just by putting a dab on your plate.
If you want to try a local variety, Straub’s Grocery sells a good Americanized version at their deli counter. Ina Garten makes one using bulgur wheat.