I have had so much terrible tabouli over the years that I eat it only at home or at a good Middle Eastern restaurant where I know it is being made fresh. Many of my friends don’t like tabouli because they have only eaten the leaden, tasteless salad bar versions and have no clue what it is like at its best – fresh, herb-laden and zesty with the crackly texture of the bulgur which serves as its base.
Bulgur, which may be purchased like rice, in a box or bag, or in bulk at establishments like Berkeley Bowl Market or Whole Foods, is parboiled, cracked, dried wheat. It is soaked to soften it a bit, and then veggies, herbs, citrus juice and oil are added to create a salad.
Here is a very basic recipe that will give you enough for 6 generous sides. Note that the one thing I do that others generally do not is limit the tomato. I think most tabouli salads have way too much tomato, which makes it watery, particularly after storage, and cuts down on the impact of the fresh herbs.
2 c. bulgur
2 c. water
1 cucumber (seeded if you like), medium dice
1 small tomato, small dice
1/2 c. mint leaves, medium chiffonade (roll the leaves together and cut them so you wind up with strips. Use a sharp knife so you don’t bruise or crush the leaves)
1/2 c. flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, rough chop
4 scallions, chopped (use green and white parts)
1/3 c. olive or canola oil
1/2 c. FRESH lemon juice – from actual lemons (use more or less to taste; I like it acidic)
2 T. orange juice (optional – but I like it in there for a touch of sweetness)
Kosher salt & fresh pepper
1) Soak the bulgur in the water for 1 hour and 15 minutes.*
2) Pour the oil over the bulger and mix in.
3) Pour the citrus juices over the bulgur and mix in.
4) Season with salt & pepper.
5) Let sit for 15 mins.
6) See what the dressing situation is. If the bulgur is super dry, add a bit more oil and citrus juices. You don’t want it swimming in dressing but you want it a bit wet because the wheat will absorb more dressing.
7) Mix in the herbs and vegetables.
8) Taste and adjust seasonings, i.e., add salt, if needed.
9) Let sit 45 minutes (on the counter is OK).
10) Fluff with a fork before service.
*I use room temperature water because I like crunchy bulgur. If you wish, you may use hot water and then reduce the soaking time to where the wheat is at the right point for your taste