If you had to pick one cuisine to eat for the rest of your life, which would it be? Tough question, I know. I would have to pick Mediterranean food. Fresh herbs, ripe produce, lemons, feta and olive oil? Yes, please. All the salads, please. Mediterranean cooking is a party with all of my favorite ingredients.
Given my predilection for Mediterranean food, I was excited to come across Maureen Abood’s new (and first!) cookbook, Rose Water and Orange Blossoms. It’s full of fresh and classic recipes from Maureen’s Lebanese-American kitchen. Think hummus, labneh, kibbeh and the more gorgeous tomato salads. It offers quite a few traditional desserts, breads, pickles and teas, too. The book wasn’t designed for vegetarians, so I only skimmed through the meaty entrée section, but that’s just me.
I love Maureen’s respect for classic Lebanese dishes and the fun little twists she incorporates in some of her recipes, which stay true to the original but make them a little more unique. Take classic tabbouleh salad, for example—she added diced avocado for some extra richness and served it in lettuce cups as an appetizer. Brilliant. This is the best tabbouleh I’ve ever had, let alone made!
Be forewarned that this salad requires some time at the cutting board, but it’s totally worth it. You can prep both the parsley and the bulgur in advance. Bulgur is not gluten free, so if you need a gluten-free alternative, I would substitute about 1/2 cup cooked quinoa (just a little will do, as this classic tabbouleh salad features far more parsley than grains). Feel free to serve it as a salad or as a fresh appetizer in little lettuce cups.
If you, like me, are now craving more Mediterranean food, check out my crispy baked falafel, Lebanese bean salad, green goddess hummus and Greek broccoli salad. I think those would all pair well together. More Mediterranean-inspired dishes here!
- 1/3 cup #1 fine grade bulgur (see notes for how to turn coarse bulgur into fine)
- 2 to 3 bunches curly parsley (to yield 2 cups finely chopped parsley)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced into 1/4-inch wide rounds
- 1 ripe avocado, diced
- 5 scallions (green onions), sliced thinly crosswise
- 4 large sprigs fresh mint leaves, finely chopped (to yield 1/4 cup chopped mint)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, to taste (about 1 to 2 medium lemons, juiced)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- To serve as lettuce cups: 1 head butter lettuce or 2 heads Little Gem romaine, rinsed and dried
- Rinse the bulgur a couple of times in a small bowl, letting the bulgur settle for a few seconds before pouring off the water (I used a fine-mesh colander to catch the bulgur when I poured off the water). Add enough fresh water to just cover the bulgur and soak for 30 minutes, or until it is softened. Pour off and squeeze out any excess water.
- While the bulgur softens, prepare the parsley. Rinse it well, then dry it in a salad spinner and then gently squeeze it in clean kitchen towels to get rid of any remaining moisture. Or, you can wrap the damp parsley in clean kitchen towels and gently squeeze out excess water, repeating as necessary. The drier the parsley, the easier it will be to chop up and the better your tabbouleh will be.
- Pinch off the curls of parsley from their stems. Chop the curls in two or three batches with a large chef's knife until it's finely chopped.
- In a medium serving bowl, combine the parsley, tomato, avocado, scallions, mint and bulgur. Stir in the olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, salt, garlic powder and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more lemon and salt if needed. Let the tabbouleh rest for about 15 minutes to give the bulgur time to soak up the flavors.
- Serve the tabbouleh as a salad immediately. Or, to serve as lettuce cups: pull the leaves from your lettuce and arrange the nicest, most cup-like leaves on a platter. Fill each cup with a big spoonful of the tabbouleh and serve immediately.
To turn coarse bulgur into fine-grade bulgur: I pulsed the bulgur in my blender (a food processor would likely work, too) about 20 times, until the grains were reduced to about 1/3 of their original size. Alternately, you could just cook your bulgur rather than soaking it. Here's a guide with cooking times for different grades of bulgur.
Storage suggestions: This salad is best the day it's made, but I still enjoyed the leftovers two days later. Store in the refrigerator, covered.