Easy tabbouleh combines all the elements of the traditional salad that so many of us know and love. Full of the flavors that make Middle Eastern food so enjoyable—mostly herbs, lemon, tomatoes, onions, and bulgur. If you’ve never tried it, now’s the time.
I worry that although everyone has heard of tabbouleh, no one has actually tasted a proper one. The longer the bulgur sits and absorbs the olive oil, lemon juice, tomato, and onion juices, the more it will swell and dominate the salad, so keep that in mind when you prepare this salad. Remember that the proper ratio of parsley to bulgur is about 7 to 1. Many cooks make tabbouleh with a food processor by pulsing in short bursts, although I still prefer the texture of the labor-intensive method of hand-chopping all the ingredients with a large chef’s knife. Tabbouleh is properly eaten by scooping up small amounts of it with pieces of romaine lettuce, not with a fork and knife, nor with pita bread.–Clifford A. Wright
- 1/2 cup medium or coarse bulgur* (no. 3 or 4)
- Juice of 4 lemons
- 6 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves (from 2 or 3 bunches)
- 1 cup finely chopped mint leaves
- 1 pound ripe tomatoes very finely chopped
- 2 large onions very finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil as needed
- 1 bunch romaine lettuce leaves separated, washed, and dried (optional)
- 8 scallions cut into 1-inch lengths
- Toss the bulgur with the lemon juice. Toss again with the parsley, mint, tomatoes, and onions and season with salt and pepper. Stir in 1 1/4 cups olive oil and let rest at room temperature until the bulgur has absorbed enough liquid to be tender, 4 to 6 hours. Correct the seasonings and olive oil, knowing that there should be enough that it looks shiny and moist but not gooey and oily.
- Serve the tabbouleh garnished with romaine lettuce leaves, if using, and scallions. Show everyone at the table to place a few slices of scallion in a leaf of romaine lettuce, then scoop up the tabbouleh with the lettuce leaf.
*What is bulgur?Cracked wheat berries that are partially pre-cooked for easier prep, bulgar is mostly known for tabbouleh salad. But, it has been around for nearly 4,000 years and in that time, people have found other uses for it. It's often used like rice, couscous, or quinoa to bulk up salads, soups, or curries. It's also often used for binding patties and croquettes.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This is tabbouleh like I know it from friends from the Middle East—mainly herbs and only a little bit of bulgur, plenty of lemon and olive oil, juicy but not greasy, and full of flavor. The recipe is straightforward and very easy to execute. The chef advises to eat the salad properly, scooped up with pieces of romaine lettuce.
We enjoyed it, eaten with a knife and fork and some grilled salmon on the side, as much as the chef did, I believe. When I usually prepare tabbouleh, I bring the bulgur to a boil with water and let it soak for 10 or 15 minutes. Here the bulgur is only soaked in cold water and hence will soak up more flavor from lemon juice and olive oil. I think that leads to a better product in the end.
I was looking for something to accompany borekitas and this was a perfect fit! The rich, cheesy borekitas loved this herby green and lemon fresh salad. My dinner company loves salad and they went back for seconds. I would have to estimate this as easily making 12 servings.
I hand-chopped everything. I agree that it is preferable. However, that means the hands-on time, if you include the preparation of the list of ingredients, is far longer than 25 minutes. If you are going to hand-chop, add plenty of time for this. After chopping, there is little more work. Since 6 to 7 bunches of parsley seemed like a lot, I bought 4. I used barely over 2 to make the 6 cups of finely chopped parsley leaves.
I found no. 3 bulgur and when I soaked it, I didn't need cheesecloth. My strainer was fine enough to contain the bulgur. Also, 1 1/4 cups olive oil is a lot of oil. My salad had a good oil to vinegar balance, but there was a lot of liquid and after it sat for several more hours, it got wetter and wetter. It could be possible to use the juice of fewer lemons and balance that with less olive oil. The bulgur was soft long before 4 hours had passed. I think an hour would have been fine and 2 hours, plenty. We served it with a slotted spoon.
Despite my providing the pieces of romaine, my diners ate the tabbouleh with a fork and knife. They didn't undertake the scoop method. Additionally, I skipped the scallions, as there was onion aplenty in the salad. Now, several hours after serving, the salad is lovely and green, but the bulgur is even larger and even more tender, but in no way has it even begun to dominate the salad.
I like my tabbouleh with chickpeas, but I served them on the side to keep the integrity of the recipe intact. There'd be no reason not to toss them in next time, and I might add them to the leftovers when this salad returns to the table tomorrow. Also, a little tidbit I learned from the composer and musician John Cage is how delicious the addition of avocado is to tabbouleh salad. So while this wouldn't be the addition of a tabbouleh purist, I’d recommend it nonetheless.
Originally published April 16, 2003