Sinking into the deep summer days of seemingly unyielding heat that saps any desire to cook at the end of the day, I find myself again turning to the Mediterranean for a dish that can be prepared in advance and accommodates the heat. Tabbouleh is a traditional Lebanese dish I almost always order out and thought too fussy to make at home. I finally gave it a try and am glad I did.
With tomatoes and cucumbers in abundance this time of year, sliced cucumber and tomato salads, and gazpacho are constants so it is nice to add one more dish to a repertoire to make the most of the season. Tabbouleh is primarily a parsley salad with tomatoes and cucumbers mixed with bulgur wheat. Quinoa is easily substituted and both just need boiling water to prepare.
I found the key to making this dish successful is salting the vegetables before mixing them into a salad. So many summer vegetables like zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, and cucumbers are sometimes best if you salt when raw then incorporate into a dish. It prevents a dish from becoming too watery, which will definitely happen with Tabbouleh after a day. Salting just entails placing your chopped vegetables into a strainer set over a bowl and sprinkling the vegetables with salt. Let sit then stir around occasionally. After about 15 minutes, if you give a stir, the juices will dribble into the bowl and leave the vegetable still crisp. The bonus is that you can now take these juices and heat them with water to prepare the bulgur, which adds so much flavor.
Premium quality olive oil is your best asset this summer so make sure you have a bottle…or two. The choices for olive oil is vast and many are poor quality. When in doubt, the bottle should have on the label a “crush” or “harvest date.” The current date should be within 6 months of that date. Many farmers markets now have vendors with their own press of olive oil. Vordonia Athenolia Extra Vigin Olive Oil is a frequent vendor at the Great Falls Farmers Market, offering pressed olive oil fresh from the family’s olive fields in Greece.
We also have a vendor at the Great Falls Farmers Market, Tyme Foods, who sells an amazing za’atar blend with wild thyme. I featured it here over the winter but we find ourselves using it even more in the summer for grilled meat and vegetable kabobs. The pairing of wild thyme with the lemon in the Tabbouleh makes this dish very special and different. *
While adding za’atar is a special touch, the salad is also wonderful without it. Soaked in olive oil and lemon it is almost thirst quenching and surprisingly filling on hot days when it’s hard to work up an appetite.
I add a handful of sliced almonds to my Tabbouleh just before serving. You could also add goat cheese or feta to make this a little more hearty. Adaptability and flexibility are key this summer and Tabbouleh checks all the boxes.
*I receive no compensation for mention Tyme Foods’ za’atar or Vordonia Athenolia. I occasionally like to share new discoveries, which is part of the fun of shopping at a farmers market!
- ½ cup bulghur
- ½ lb. ripe tomatoes
- 1 medium cucumber, peeled and cubed
- 2 bunches parsley (about 3-4 cups leaves without stems), chopped
- 1 handful mint leaves, chopped
- 1-2 spring onions or a small red onion, chopped
- 1 large lemon (or more, if desired)
- ¼ cup olive oil (or more, if desired)
- 1-2 Tablespoons za'atar
- Sea salt
- 1 small head of romaine (optional)
- Peel the tomatoes with a serrated tomato peeler or using a sharp knife, score an "x"
intothe bottom and place in a heatproof bowl, pour overboiling water and let sit for a few minutes until skin begins to lift off. Remove from bowl and cool only long enough until you can handle, then pull off the skin.
- Cut out the core and cut tomato(es) into quarters. Scrape out the seeds.
- Chop tomato into cubes.
- Place the tomato and cucumbers into a fine mesh strainer set over a large glass mixing bowl. Sprinkle all the cubes with salt and give a stir. Let sit in the strainer, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes. Press gently to extract as much liquid as you can without crushing. Reserve the liquid.
- Add enough water to the glass measuring cup to reach 1½ cups. Bring to a boil in the microwave or on a stove top. Add the bulghur and cover. Let sit for about 30-40 minutes until soft and fluffy.
- In a large bowl, mix together the cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, mint, onions, and bulghur. Add the juice of one lemon, 1 Tablespoon of za'atar to taste (or more) and olive oil. Mix gently to combine. Adjust seasoning, if necessary by adding more lemon or za'atar.
- Layer a plate of romaine leaves as a bed for a salad. Or, if you have baby romaine, they make excellent scoops when serving as an appetizer.
- Can be served immediately or keeps well in the fridge for at least 4 days. (If using romaine lettuce, add just before serving)