A Brief History of Tabbouleh (Plus 7 Stunning Recipes)

Updated on April 1, 2020
Carb Diva profile image

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Tabbouleh salad is filled with whole grains, fresh herbs, and vegetables
Tabbouleh salad is filled with whole grains, fresh herbs, and vegetables

The History of Tabbouleh

From the shore of the Mediterranean Sea to Mesopotamia in the east, from the Taurus Mountains in the north to the Arabian Desert in the south—this is the land known as the Levant, the birthplace of the dish we know today as tabbouleh.

Tabbouleh (from the Arabic taabil, meaning “to spice”) was an essential part of the diet of the Levant people 4,000 years ago. It was there that the herbs known as qadb (Medicago sativa) flourished in the mountainous hillsides. In the tabbouleh of today, bulgur wheat or a similar hearty grain takes center stage, but years ago it was lush greens that provided the color, flavor, and bulk of tabbouleh, and the Arab diet.

Today tabbouleh is almost synonymous with Lebanese cuisine. It appears on every table, at every feast and is popular in vegan and vegetarian diets.

Did You Know?

In 2009 the world’s largest bowl of tabbouleh (weighing 4,324 kilograms) was prepared. It’s in the Guinness Book of World Records thanks to a dedicated team of 350 people who worked for 10 hours to create it.

Recipes

All the fresh ingredients for a traditional tabbouleh salad
All the fresh ingredients for a traditional tabbouleh salad | Source

Bulgur Wheat Tabbouleh Salad

This first recipe is one I obtained almost 40 years ago from the wife of Dr. Steve Malone, of the University of Washington Seismology Department. She and Steve were group leaders at a Campus Christian Ministry marriage preparation workshop. My (then future) husband and I were participants. It was a wonderful, inspiring weekend filled with humor, fellowship, encouragement, insight, and wonderful food.

As I have said in the past, my mother was a good cook, but not very daring. No "unusual" vegetables, no fish (other than fish sticks or an occasional piece of halibut), and salads were head lettuce, tomatoes, and radishes. I had never heard of tabbouleh, or even bulgur wheat, until that weekend in the spring of 1981.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 heaping tsp. crushed garlic
  • 1/2 cup scallions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained

Instructions

  1. Combine the bulgur wheat and boiling water in a large mixing bowl. Let stand for 15-20 minutes, or until all water is absorbed.
  2. Stir in the salt, lemon juice, garlic, scallions, and olive oil. Cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate 2-3 hours.
  3. Just before serving stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Whole wheat couscous and chickpea tabbouleh salad
Whole wheat couscous and chickpea tabbouleh salad | Source

Whole Wheat Couscous and Chickpea Tabbouleh Salad

This whole wheat couscous tabbouleh has all of the flavors of the original salad, but some people do not care for the graininess of bulgur wheat. Melissa uses Israeli couscous, the pasta that looks like little pearls. It's fresh, healthy, and filling. The chickpeas are a great source of protein so make this a wonderful vegetarian/vegan meal.

Quinoa tabbouleh salad
Quinoa tabbouleh salad | Source

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad

Quinoa (keen-wah) has been called the most perfect grain. It is gluten-free, high in protein and calcium, has an incredible cooked texture, and mixes well with any flavor profile. But did you know that quinoa isn't a grain? It's actually a seed related to spinach, chard, and the sugar beet. The plant itself is a broad-leaf annual and is really quite stunning. A mature one can reach up to nine feet in height, with pink-, purple-, and red-hued seed heads on dark red stalks.

But quinoa is more than just a pretty face. It's gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain sufficient amounts of all nine essential amino acids. In other words, it's a perfect food. By the way, in a resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, 2013 was designated as the Year of Quinoa because of its nutritional value and the role it can play in providing nutritional balance and food security in poverty-stricken areas.

I'm going to explain how to cook quinoa, and then share a recipe for a tabbouleh based, not on wheat, but on quinoa—this would be the perfect meal for those who are gluten sensitive.

How to Cook

Instructions (for cooking 1 cup of raw quinoa)

  1. You must rinse your quinoa before cooking. I cannot stress this enough. Obviously, this means that you need to have a fine-mesh strainer (quinoa grains are small and will whoosh through your pasta colander). But, eating quinoa is worth the small investment in adding just one more utensil to your repertoire.
  2. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.
  3. Stir in the rinsed quinoa.
  4. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cooked, covered, about 12 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and allow to sit, covered and undisturbed for about 5 minutes.

One cup of raw quinoa = 3 cups cooked

Now that you know how to cook quinoa, here is a recipe that uses the seed to create a beautiful gluten-free and vegan tabbouleh salad.

Farro tabbouleh with burrata and hummus
Farro tabbouleh with burrata and hummus | Source

Farro Tabbouleh With Burrata and Hummus

What first drew me to this recipe was the photograph; it's so amazingly beautiful. But then, take a look at the list of ingredients. This dish screams "Mediterranean cuisine," borrowing elements from all around the region. Burrata is a delicate soft cheese from Italy; hummus, of course, is a rich Palestinian dip of chickpeas and tahini.

Farro is one of the oldest cultivated grains initially discovered in the fertile crescent of the Middle East. Today it is grown in Italy in the regions of Lazio, Umbria, and Tuscany. It's a toothsome, nutty-tasting grain that is not (yet) well known in the United States. High in protein and fiber; it looks like barley but the grains are slightly larger.

But wait, there's more. This beautiful recipe (Farro Tabbouleh with Burrata and Hummus) from Tieghan is highlighted with pops of color and flavor from blueberries, pistachio nuts, basil, and mint. It would make a stunning dish to present to guests.

Cauliflower "Rice" Tabbouleh
Cauliflower "Rice" Tabbouleh | Source

Cauliflower "Rice" Tabbouleh

Some people may prefer a low-carb version of our featured dish. In this recipe, cauliflower is "riced" (pulverized with a food processor to tiny rice grain-sized bits). Cauliflower tabbouleh salad is gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and lower in calories.

Lentil tabbouleh
Lentil tabbouleh | Source

Lentil Tabbouleh Salad

Sylvia Fountaine is a former restaurant owner, caterer, and chef who loves to cook meals from scratch, using fresh healthy produce. Her lentil tabbouleh is packed full of antioxidants, protein, and fiber, and is a delicious make-ahead salad that will keep for several days.

Black rice tabbouleh
Black rice tabbouleh | Source

Caroline's black rice tabbouleh is a luxurious dish of color and contrast. Nutty black rice and crunchy pistachios play against the creamy texture of chickpeas, sweet tomatoes contrast grassy flat-lead parsley, the slight citrus tang of English cucumber and briny Feta cheese—all of these combine to create a filling, satisfying main dish salad.

© 2020 Linda Lum

Comments

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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, I really like the one made with black rice (wild rice would work too). Lots of fresh garlic and herbs. The feta cheese really makes it.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Shoot I really like it but thought it was Greek. I think the ladies of my family used to have competitions. I never met one I did not like.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, he's even better (worse?) in person, trust me. Pick a grain that you think you would like (in my mind you can't go wrong with quinoa or the nutty flavor of wild rice). Fresh cucumbers, sweet fresh tomatoes, onions and fresh mint leaves. What's not to love?

      Chickpeas are great in it, as are ripe olives. Cooked shrimp would take it over the top. If you're into cheese, feta is awesome. Toss inn some pistachios for crunch. Use your imagination.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 months ago from USA

      Bills comment is hilarious. I was raised in the same vein of your mother. Never had this and kinda scared to try but I bet my daughter sought be all over it. I often prefer low flavor anymore.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Sha, I think cardboard under poached eggs would be good.

      Quinoa is such a super-food (gluten-free, a good source of fiber and nutrients, and a protein powerhouse) I don't think I'll ever make traditional tabbouleh again. Quinoa is the way to go.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 months ago from Central Florida

      I love tabbouleh, but don't eat it very often. I do appreciate you telling us how to cook quinoa. We have a local restaurant here that serves it underneath poached eggs. It's delicious!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Oh my goodness MizB, I love Bill to the moon and back but he's such a fussy pants when it comes to food. When I started out to make this article I wanted to find options for my friends who are gluten-intolerant. I hope one of these works for you. (BTW the wild rice one is AMAZING!)

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      4 months ago from Beautiful South

      Our friend Bill Holland sounds just like my Larry. "I'm not going to eat it no matter how you make it!" LOL I love Tabbouleh, but I stopped eating it when I went gluten-free. I think I had some made of quinoa in a restaurant once, but that is very rare to find. I also like the idea of making it with lentils. Thanks for giving us these great ideas. If Larry won't eat it, that just leaves more for me.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Ms. Dora it will be a while until I make another batch of tabbouleh. The tomatoes that are in the stores now taste like cardboard. I'm ready for summer. Thanks for stopping by.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Had my share of tabbouleh and enjoyed it as long as I could. Thanks you for these great recipes.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Pamela, perhaps I should have pointed out that although this is vegetarian (or vegan if you don't use cheese) you can add meat if you simply must--this salad would be great with leftover turkey, rotisserie chicken, or cooked shrimp don't you think?

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I have had tabbouleh in restaurants but never made it myself. It is so good and you have some pictures that make me hungry. I didn't know you could make this wonderful dish in so many ways. This is a very good article!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Well Bill, you finally caught me LOL. You won't eat it? You have no idea what you're missing. Just means there's more for the rest of us.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Huh? You're making this stuff up now, aren't you? Just making up names and background information to fool people like me....I'm onto your game now, Linda. :)

      Okay, color me informed. I'm still not going to eat it, so there!!!

      Wet and cold....I NEED SPRING WEATHER!!!!!

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