Let it be said here and now, the main ingredient in tabbouleh is PARSLEY. I feel better now. No parsley, no tabbouleh! Grain salads that pretend to be tabbouleh are simply an insult to the real thing. Most Lebanese households will buy numerous bunches of parsley each week. Clean bunches are gently tied together before the “bouquet” is chopped into tiny even pieces. Sunday lunch is the quintessential tabbouleh moment: its preparation is labor-intensive but seriously appreciated. The Lebanese Ministry of Tourism has officially approved National Tabbouleh Day, held on the first Saturday in July. Tabbouleh is a serious matter for us Lebanese. Countries around the region lay claim to its origin, with battles fought in the Guinness Book of World Records.
- 4-5 bunches parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped
- 1/2 kg (1.1 lb) (4-6 tomatoes) firm, ripe, bright red tomatoes
- 3-4 spring onions, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 50 g (1/4 cup) fine burghul
- Juice of 1-2 lemons (substitute with verjuice if lemon is not in season)
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- Leaves of romaine lettuce, cabbage, or grape leaves
- Barbara Massaad
1. Parsley usually comes in tied bunches. Untie the bunch, picking out debris and spoiled stalks. Wash the parsley thoroughly with cold running water. It takes a bit of patience, but you can use the time to plan your weekend! Rinse well to be sure that your parsley is perfectly cleaned. Shake off excess water. To make life easier, I tie bunches of stalks together aligning them evenly. I leave them to dry in a colander, stalks down, while I work on chopping the other ingredients. Now—hear me well—if the stalks are not completely dry, spin them in a salad spinner to dry thoroughly. If the stalks are still wet, you wind up with “mushy” tabbouleh. Not cool!
2. To chop the parsley, hold the bunch in one hand and chop with the other using a sharp knife. I invested in professional knives recently and it completely changed my life. No kidding! Start chopping from the stalk end and move up. Chop the mint leaves and mix with the parsley. Don’t over-handle the mint, it bruises easily and blackens. If you are not using the parsley immediately, store the chopped parsley in a saucepan (yes, a stainless steel saucepan), as opposed to a plastic container. This will keep the parsley crunchy and prevent moisture from building up.
3. Here is a trick to dice tomatoes like a pro: start by cutting the tomatoes into round slices holding the fruit, and then make the cubes by cutting horizontally then vertically. Chopping the spring onions into tiny bits can be a bit tricky. Don’t forget to trim the filaments first. In a small bowl, add 1 teaspoon of salt to the diced onion and mix them well. This will reduce the sharpness of the onion. Add ground allspice. Wash the burghul quickly with cold running water and strain. I insist that burghul should not be soaked in water. I empty the burghul into a large mixing bowl and soak it with the lemon juice and water from the tomatoes. Alternatively, if lemon is not in season, I use verjuice (hosroom), which my father-in-law gives me every year. He makes it with his young tart grapes. I leave the burghul to soak for 5-10 minutes at least. With my hands (the Lebanese way of course), I mix the burghul and the tomatoes together. I add the diced onion, the chopped parsley and mint and drizzle extra virgin olive oil all over. I mix again with my hands, tasting and checking for salt. I usually add more salt, more lemon and more olive oil.
4. Serve with young leaves of romaine lettuce, cabbage, or ideally soft grape leaves. Make small pockets with the leaves and scoop a small amount of tabbouleh straight into your open mouth.