Just tabbouleh... but still unforgettable

July 9, 2007, 11:52 PM

Tabbouleh. Perhaps unfairly, I somehow associate it with college, wannabe hippies, and 70s-style vegetarianism. Not that there's anything wrong with any of that.

But this marginalization in my mind means tabbouleh (tabouleh, tabouli, take your pick... Arabic is flexible about the rendering of vowels) somehow never seems to find itself on my radar when I plan dinner for a crowd. It just seems so hopelessly quaint and dated, like lentil loaves and cheese-laden casseroles.

That's a shame, of course, because tabbouleh is actually quite wonderful. In fact, it's really hard to get wrong, assuming you start with decent ingredients and make the mint and parsley, rather than the bulgur, the focus.

The most important ingredients, of course, are fresh mint, fresh parsley, bulgur wheat, lemon juice, tomatoes and olive oil. It's seasoned with salt and pepper, and generally includes an aromatic like onion, shallot or scallions.

tabouleh 735

Only two things can ruin this dish: too much bulgur, or attempting to substitute dried herbs. Even sad supermarket tomatoes won't be a tragedy if chopped finely enough, but excellent tomatoes can be featured more prominently.

The dish is probably prettier, and easier to eat, if served on a bed of romaine lettuce leaves. But even a minimalist version is a beautiful way to put some summer in your meal.

It's far better with flat leaf parsley, but you can get away with the stuff that used to be used solely as a pointless garnish at your local diner.

You can play with a hint of additional seasoning such as cinnamon, sumac, allspice, or pomegranate molasses, but if your ingredients start out fantastically fresh, you can get away with just the fundamentals.