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A Brief History of Tabbouleh (Plus 7 Stunning Recipes)

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.

Recipes

All the fresh ingredients for a traditional tabbouleh salad

All the fresh ingredients for a traditional tabbouleh salad

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

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

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.

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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

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

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

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

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.

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© 2020 Linda Lum

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