x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Food obsession: tabbouleh

Tabbouleh, if done right, is one of the most delicious and nutritious Middle Eastern salads out there.

Tabbouleh salad. iStock
Tabbouleh salad. iStock

Atrocities have been committed in the name of tabbouleh over the years. It’s little wonder: after hummus, it is the Levant region’s biggest culinary export to date. There are those who add mint to it. There are those who add finely chopped cucumbers to it, horror of horrors, which results in a soggy concoction that makes me want to weep. In North America, a larger bulgur wheat-to-parsley ratio is the norm, creating more of a couscous-like salad that bares little resemblance to what tabbouleh is meant to be, which is three quarters parsley and one quarter everything else.

If done wrong, tabbouleh is very easy to hate. But if done right, it’s perhaps the most delicious salad in the world.

Attempt to make your own. Discard the stems of two large bunches of parsley and chop the leaves. Finely dice two medium to large tomatoes and two spring onions.

You only need a handful of bulgur, really, and the trick is to soak it in the juice of one or two lemons. Let it sit – 15 minutes should do it – and add it as a mild accessory to the main event: the parsley. Always, always use flat-leaf parsley; there’s just no other way. How much lemon and olive oil you use really depends on your individual taste; the following is a guideline and you have to taste as you go along and add more lemon or salt if you think the salad can take it. Also, I have a weakness for tomatoes and always add more than I should, while others prefer them to be as mild an accessory as the bulgur.

After washing the chopped parsley, squeeze every last drop of water out before depositing the leaves in your bowl. This is essential because you don’t want a watery tabbouleh. Similarly, when you add your diced tomatoes, do it without their juice. Add the rest of the ingredients: the onions, the quarter of a cup of bulgur that has been soaking in the lemon juice, two tablespoons or so of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Mix everything well and let it sit for at least half an hour so the flavours can meld properly, then taste it to see if you’d like to add more salt, olive oil or lemon juice. Some add cayenne pepper. You decide.

Use some crisp, cold romaine lettuce leaves to scoop up the tangy salad. Tabbouleh is even better consumed the next day after it’s had time to rest in the fridge overnight.