Tabbouleh or tabouli salad is a healthy Mediterranean dish with fresh parsley, bulgur wheat, vegetables and a simple lemon and olive oil dressing. Use quinoa instead of bulgur to make it gluten-free.
According to wikipedia Tabbouleh is traditionally served as part of a mezze in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arab world.
However, you don't have to make an entire variety of meze dishes to serve it with. You can absolutely have it as a salad or a as a light and healthy side to your main course.
What is tabbouleh salad?
Tabbouleh, also known as Tabouli, is a Mediterranean chopped parsley salad with bulgur wheat and some other vegetables in smaller quantities.
The star here is the parsley, which you have to use in abundance, and not the bulgur wheat. The bulgur is used to add some texture and to soak up the juices of the vegetables.
Is it healthy?
Yes, Tabbouleh is actually one of the healthiest foods you can eat.
Because this salad is full of parsley, it has a lot of health benefits. According to healthline.com a ½ cup (30 grams) of fresh, chopped parsley provides 108% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) of Vitamin A, 53% of the RDI of Vitamin C and 547% of the RDI of Vitamin K.
Tabbouleh is also full of fiber, phytonutrients, healthy fats and minerals.
If you follow a gluten-free diet and can't eat bulgur wheat, you can make a quinoa tabbouleh (read more at the end of this article).
Fresh parsley: The two most common types are French curly-leaf and Italian flat-leaf. Use your favorite type or the one you can find more easily at your grocery store.
Bulgur wheat: Bulgur wheat is cracked wheat that has been parboiled. It comes in different sizes, and traditionally fine bulgur is used in this salad but you can also use the medium grain type.
Tomatoes: Use the ripest, sweetest tomatoes you can find and make sure you chop them in very small cubes.
Green onions: Green onions give tabbouleh complexity and its characteristic flavor.
Fresh mint or spearmint: Mint is optional, but I urge you to try it at least once, even if you don't like it.
Salt: A little bit of salt intensifies the taste of Tabbouleh.
Cucumber: Cucumber is not traditionally used, but many modern recipes include it because it gives freshness and crunchiness. I also happen to like it so when I have it, I use it. Chop it at the same size as the tomatoes.
Spices: Spices are also optional but they give extra flavor to this salad. You can definitely experiment and make your own combinations. I like to use a mix of cumin, cinnamon, and fresly ground black pepper. Cardamom, allspice, coriander, cloves and nutmeg are also popular choices.
Ingredients for the dressing:
Olive oil: Extra virgin olive oil is your best option for this salad.
Lemon juice: Freshly squeezed lemon juice will complement all of the other flavors. Because the acidity of lemons can change depending the variety and other factors like ripeness, always taste and adjust the quantity accordingly.
What type of bulgur wheat to use
Traditionally, fine bulgur wheat is used for Tabbouleh. As you can see from the photo below, fine bulgur has approximately the size of quinoa or a bit smaller (the peppercorns are used for comparison).
Because it is so fine, it absorbs water very fast. All you have to do is to add 1 cup of hot water to 1 cup of fine bulgur wheat, and in a few seconds it will become soft and ready to eat.
Some recipes say to add the fine bulgur straight to the salad, but I've found that if you do that it will need at least 8 hours to become soft (and even then it may not be soft enough).
However, it can be a challenge to find fine bulgur since most of the stores have only medium bulgur available. Don't worry, medium bulgur is also great for Tabbouleh. You will only have to remember that you need to soak it in hot water for a longer time in order to become soft.
You can find more information in the article types of bulgur form foolproofliving com
Quinoa tabbouleh (gluten free)
Quinoa is a great substitute for bulgur if you don't eat gluten. And though the taste is not exactly the same, because the quantity is not very much, it doesn't change the character of this salad.
To make a quinoa Tabbouleh, just use white quinoa in the same quantities and cook it according to the packaging directions before you mix it with the rest of the ingredients.
One thing you have to be aware of, is that quinoa has a bitter tasting outer coating which contains saponins (naturally occurring compounds that are widely distributed in all cells of legume plants). Because these compounds taste bitter, you should rinse quinoa very well before cooking it.
How to do it:
Transfer quinoa to a fine sieve (it needs to be very fine so that quinoa doesn't pass through) and rinse it very well under running water until the water runs clear.
If you don't have a fine sieve you can use a cheesecloth. After that, transfer it to a pot and cook.
You can also watch this video for how to cook quinoa.
If you can't find bulgur wheat you can use couscous or even Israeli (pearl) couscous instead.
Couscous is very similar to fine bulgur but it's actually a type of pasta made from semolina and water.
Israeli couscous is made the same way but is larger (about the same size as medium or coarse bulgur).
Cook/soak the couscous according to the packaging directions, but don't let it become too soft. You want to keep it al dente because it will soften further after absorbing some of the juices from the salad.
Why is my Tabouli Bitter?
Sometimes parsley can taste bitter if it's not minced fine enough. For making Tabouli, I suggest using a food processor and pulse it until it's finely minced.
Also, an adequate quantity of salt will counter balance any bitterness. So, as always, taste and adjust accordingly.
What to serve it with
Tabouli is great next to many meat-based dishes, spicy dishes and other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods.
As mentioned previously, it can be served with meze like hummus, Baba Ganoush and homemade pita bread.
Tabbouleh (tabouli) salad
- ½ cup (100 grams) fine bulgur (see notes for medium bulgur)
- 1 ½ cups (270 grams) finely chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup chopped cucumber, optional
- 4 green onions (80-100 grams)
- 3 cups finely chopped parsley (about 3 large bunches / 250-300 grams)
- ¼ cup (25 grams) finely chopped mint or spearmint
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Salt and freshly black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) lemon juice (or more to taste)
- 6 tablespoons (75 grams) e.v. olive oil
- Transfer the fine bulgur wheat to a large bowl and add ½ cup boiling water. Stir and let it soak for 1 minute.
- Chop the tomatoes and the cucumber into tiny cubes and transfer them to the bowl with the bulgur.
- Chop the green onions (you can also pulse them in the food processor with the parsley)
- Transfer the parsley and the mint to the bowl of your food processor and pulse until very finely chopped. Transfer to the salad bowl.
- Add the spices, the salt and pepper, the lemon juice and the olive oil. Mix well with a fork, taste and add more lemon juice, olive oil and salt if needed.
- Ideally, chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Serve.
- For medium bulgur wheat: Add 1 cup of boiling water, cover and let it soak for at least 40 minutes or until it's lighter in color and chewable. Drain and use.
- The cumin and the cinnamon are also optional, but I urge you to try them at least once.
- 1 serving is about 1 cup (150 grams)