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Tabouleh Salad 40
  • 11 Aug 2010 05:33:07

For your own benefit, I post instructions on how I make delicious tabouleh.


Tabouleh is a Lebanese salad; one might fairly attribute it to Middle Eastern or eastern Mediterranean cuisine in general, but I'm not much of a buff on food history.

I taught myself to make tabouleh after my fascination with hummus, but unknown to me at that time, I used to devour it as a child. Life is interesting, huh?

Thus, I will present my own basic ideas on it intermingled with my mother's ideas on the subject.

What is tabouleh?

Tabouleh is basically some kind of salad which tends to be based on bulgur wheat and a strong citrus 'dressing.' The best translation for bulgur wheat I can come up with is pearled wheat. However, in North American grocery stores, this can be found either with things like dried beans, or excessively overpriced in boxes in the Kosher or ethnic food sections as simple 'tabouleh,' which often include a janky spice packet and some meger instructions for making salad. Think of bulgar wheat as a minimally processed raw wheat, looking similar to pearled barley, and using the same process, for example, as is used to make marketable white rice by removing the husk.

Starting out with the wheat

Since tabouleh is a very general concept, I will limit the basic discussion to two points. Preparing the bulgur and what to do in the mean time. I've never seen bulgar in a hydrated form, since that would be unnatural in any case. Thus, you need to soak it in water. I prefer to use luke-warm tap water with a strong citrus base, like lemon juice. You'll be adding lemon or lime juice later and at least letting it set overnight to get a good flavor, so you might as well get ahead while you can. I like to rinse the bulgar first, but after that I am fairly conservative adding water, since I don't want to wash out any lemon juice from adding too much water. Just add a little water, check on it, and repeat. As long as it's hydrated to the point that it won't take anymore water, you're good.

While the bulgar is hydrating, you can cut the other ingredients. Throughout these instructions I will refer to "one or two handfuls" of bulgar as a baseline for other ingredients. Please keep in mind that my hands are quite large (10 inches or 25 cm from thumb to middle finger when extended).

Citrus juice

Lemon or lime juice are much better fresh. A few slices of either one make a nice garnish, too.

What else should I add?

Anything you add should be voraciously chopped. Nothing should be larger than about a square centimeter in area (it's depth depending on the item, but no more than a cubic centimeter). For leaves like parsley and mint, chop it until you are convinced you could not achieve any result by continuing to chop it. Please rinse all these items as well before you begin cutting.

In general, you want the bulgur to comprise no more than about 25% of your salad's volume. It doesn't really matter which things you choose to add, but I wouldn't suggest going overboard on any particular item. For example, I don't think a bunch of bulgur and onion constitutes a good salad, so choose at least a few items listed below.


My other preferred base is fresh parsley, but, like everything else in this section, it is not necessary. If you choose to go this route, then you can use up to what turns out to be an equal volume to the tabouleh. Don't be deceived: two standard grocery bunches of parsley will only yield the volume of perhaps two handfuls of bulgar. This is because you need to remove as much stem as possible. This process is time consuming, and I'd suggest putting on a film to watch while you do it, since it's really going to take no less than a half hour, and probably an hour at a comfortable rate with an absent mind. After the stems are gone, it's easiest to nearly purée it with a food processor, or just chop it for awhile with a cutting board and a knife. If you go the latter route, my only fair warning is your hands will be green for a few hours.


Fresh mint is a nice compliment, but this should be much more moderate than parsley (if you use it). Something like 2-4 sprigs ought to suffice for one to two handfuls of bulgar. Preparation of mint is identical to parsley, but it will be much faster since the leaves are larger, and I suggest a much smaller amount. Remove and discard the stems. Chop the leaves by hand or with a grating-tool of a food processor.


Cilantro is entirely optional, and I wouldn't consider it a substitute for mint or parsley. You can use about as much as you want, however. Remove the stems and chop it just like the parsley and mint. I tend to find this a nicer flavor when my citrus base is lime.

Sweet Onion

White onion is usually really tasty in this salad. Fresh onion in general is pretty good for your health, and I think it tastes pretty good even straight. You can try other onions, but personally I hate red onion, and yellow cooking onions are pretty foul when uncooked. One large white onion should do the trick for a normal-sized salad. If you don't have much experience chopping onion, after you peel it, chop it into two hemispheres from the pole (top, if you like). As I pointed out before, the area of salad pieces should be no larger than a square centimeter. At this point, chop it along the polar axis, and then perpendicular to that. You can chop it starting in either direction, but I find this to be most successful. Since onions already separate concentrically in the radial direction, your work should be done.


Tomatoes are strongly encouraged for a successful salad. One can use up to three times as much tomato as onion, although personally I tend to go about 1:1. In any case, for smaller vine tomatoes, three or four is fine, or for the larger mutant variety, one should be enough. If you never cut a tomato before, please realise that a sharp knife is critical here. Otherwise, just cut it in half or quarter it, and do something clever so it becomes diced. And just because I used the word 'diced' does not mean I'm advocating anyone to buy canned diced tomatoes for this salad. If you try to feed me that garbage, I will slip bromine laced with mercury into your salad bowl.

Cucucucucucucucucucumber = (Cu)10× ber

(No, the title does not suggest cold amorphous copper compound.)

Cucumber is an excellent choice for this salad. If you add cucumber, I suggest cutting it before anything else and soaking it in cold salt water. You'll want to add a lot of salt to the salad in the end, so this is a clever way to infuse the flavor. If you follow my infusion advice, add enough salt that the water is saturated. Usually one large cucumber is sufficient, but up to two would be okay. I tend to stray from English cucumbers here. In any case, there is a very clever way to dice cucumbers. If it's not English (meaning it has a decent radius compared to its length and large seeds), start out by cutting it in half. Then hold it vertically and cut something like three to four times from one side to the next, almost down to the base. Now make an equal number of cuts perpendicular to the previous cuts. Now to dice it all you need to do is lay it on its side and chop it. Discard the base, since it often has a bitter taste. Presto: chopped cucumber.

Bell pepper

Bell peppers of any color are nice in this salad, but I would say rather less essential than previous items. To cut bell peppers efficiently, start by making a circumpolar cut, except for the stem; then, when you break it in half, you have the stem and most of the refuse on one side. Discard the seeds and refuse. Then you can stand each half on end vertically and cut the pepper into ribbons. After that, since the pepper is basically thin enough in the polar plane, just cut it into pieces against the curvature.


You can add a tiny bit of chopped red cabbage if you want. I would be very moderate with this item, and usually I omit it entirely.

The end phase

At this point I assume you have a bunch of chopped items, which may be in different bowls, some of them with liquid. Drain the liquid from all bowls, and combine everything into one large mixing bowl. Add a profuse amount of olive oil to the mixture, preferring here virgin oil, since we won't be cooking anything. Since we didn't add any black pepper at any previous stage, I'd suggest a liberal addition of this as well. Now you just need to use your (clean) hands to mix it about for a few minutes to homogenize the salad. Once that's done you can taste it and add salt, pepper, and citrus juice to taste.


This salad really wants to sit overnight before being copiously consumed. Personally I just throw some plastic wrap over the mixing bowl and put it in my refrigerator. The salad should be good for about a week, since it has a lot of oil and a high acidity.


In the first place, note that since you are using uncooked vegatables, to which you've added liquid like olive oil and citrus juices, after setting, some liquid will rise. Mix that up before you put it on the table. On that note, typically if there is a serving utensil, it should be a slotted spoon, and when the salad is gone, you may have some strange water-lemon-oil liquid remaining. Never figured out what to do with that...

This salad can be eaten like an ordinary salad (say, with a fork). If it's for a party, or you want to eat it otherwise, then take romaine lettuce leaves, and use them to scoop or grab salad from a large communal bowl to eat.

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