A cool salad for warm weather: Middle-Eastern cracked wheat (tabouleh) salad

2 Jul

First off, happy Independence Day, everyone! I’m lake-bound to camp, [watch MM] fish, bike, spend time with MM’s family, and generally get dirty. I hope all you US citizens have some plans for celebrating this beautiful land we’re blessed to live in and the sacrifices made so we could enjoy it.

Speaking of Independence Day, here’s one to make this weekend–a cool, summery salad with garden-fresh vegetables, lemon, and pretty green herbs.

The story of tabouleh goes like this: on a fine, clear day in June, I decided anyway to go inside of a refrigerated store anyway. It was not so bad though; I took a stroll down my favorite aisles: the exotic foods aisles. Dun, dun, dun.

Banners hung from the ceiling that read, “Italian,” “German,” “Scandinavian,” “Japanese,” “Latin,” and the like hung above sections of foods I’d either never heard of or never attempted to incorporate into my diet. In other words, jars of pre-made curry sauces (maybe better than what I make!), packages of udon noodles, savory (I imagined, anyway) matzo ball soups, tamarind soda, ginseng energy drinks with the ginseng looking like seaweed in water–even a simple package of coconut cookies billed simultaneously as both Latin (Spanish language) and South Asian (its location in the aisles) tempted me. I imagined a Japanese-themed dinner-and-movie date night for MM and me, recognizing Jewish holidays with matzo ball soup despite being definitely not Jewish and definitely not knowing what a matzo anything is, etc. I am amazing at making up scenarios to make create exotic meals.

I restrained; however, Midwestern Meateater knows my penchant for anything foreign-sounding, -looking, or -tasting, so he usually encourages me to pick up a couple of items: “no, honey, get that. Get the thing…that green thing in the jar. It’s okay. You’ll use it somehow. No, it’ll be good. No, not like last time.” Thus was born tabouleh.

Truthfully, I’ve wanted to taste tabouleh since high school, when my friends and I listened to a song called “Nose Ring Girl,” where the remembered line was “and buy her hummus, and tabulis, and bobbagunush, and rice cakes, rice cakes, rice cakes!” (We shouted the much-loved words at the last part.) It’s classy that I wanted to make a dish based on the lyrics of a band called Nerf Herder, isn’t it? Yes.

Tabouleh turns out to be highly good for you, and just like it sounds, rather breezy and vegetable-y. Light and summery, with only a bit of cooking involved. And heck, if it’s hot enough where you are, maybe you can just set your pot ‘o water outside and it’ll boil anyway. I will feel sorry for you if that’s the case, though. Wear your sunscreen.

Tabouleh works excellently as a vegetarian side dish. The lemon, herbs, tomatoes, and cucumbers in this Middle-Eastern just make you want to grow a garden. Or borrow from your neighbor’s. It would be fantastic this weekend as a Fourth of July side, and unlike other things I make, I don’t think it is too far-out. I’d dare to call it crowd-pleasing, in fact.

Nutritional low-down on tabouleh:

Tomatoes are a natural source of that purportedly anti-cancer agent, lycopene. Tomatoes are full of good things–face it, non-tomato eaters. Cucumbers, like other water-holding vegetables, are low in calories, but what you may not know is that they are a good source of vitamin K. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting (in nutrition classes, we were told to remember “K” for “clotting”…the English major here always thought that was contradictory). Vitamin K also aids in bone formation and fetus development. So, pregnant friends, eat up! Olive oil’s benefits have been touted loudly and much these days, so I won’t cover that here, but feel free to ask in your comments if you want some information.

Bulgur, or cracked wheat, was the main question mark for me, since my Western American ways didn’t associate with bulgur until now, but I had my nutritional suspicions. Turns out bulgur is a fantastic source of insoluble fiber. You need both insoluble (not dissolving) and soluble (dissolving) fiber in your diet, and Americans have a tough time in their refined-grains diet in getting enough of either kind. It’s been used in traditional cultures for a long time because it’s inexpensive but hearty; bulgur provides more fiber and protein than brown rice, but is lower in calories. In other words, you out there looking to put on your teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy, yada yada bikini, this song goes out to you.

Tabouleh salad

This recipe comes straight, yes, from the back of a package of bulgur. No kidding. Well, a girl’s gotta start somewhere. I’ve added some notes where needed and have also inserted some information—this recipe is bare bones when it comes to details. I suppose the assumption is that if you bought this, you don’t need the recipe because your grandmother and mother made it and you learned at 10 years old to make it.

Go heavier on the salt—it only says to taste but the flavors won’t pop otherwise—and use fresh lemons if you can. Don’t skip any of the herbs, even if the mint sounds funny. Do it, I tell you! You’ll love me later.

From “raw” to eating: 20 minutes (plus time to chill)

Makes: 4 C, or a big bowl full (see notes)

½ C medium burghol (cracked wheat) (Esprout note: burghol = bulgur. Referred to hereafter as bulgur. I used more like 2 C, so it made a mixing bowl full.)
1 C chopped [fresh] tomatoes
1 C chopped cucumbers
1 C chopped green onions (Esprout note: I used white.)
1 C chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ C chopped mint leaves
½ C fresh lemon juice
1/3 extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste (Esprout note: see head notes for salt recommendation.)

Wash bulgur, changing the water a few times. Drain, cover with boiling hot water and set aside. (Esprout note: feel free to cook like you would pasta, filling a pot with water, waiting for it to boil, then adding the bulgur.)

Chop all vegetables and combine with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. (Esprout note: I made the dressing of olive oil, lemon, and salt/pepper separately, then added it to the bulgur/wheat mixture.)

Drain bulgur through strainer and press out water as much as possible. (Esprout note: Really. Press. This stuff is dense. I found it helped to shake the strainer a few times to jostle water out.) toss bulgur into vegetable mixture.

Chill for one hour before serving.

Happy Independence Day, everyone! I love you, United States of America, where tabouleh is welcome in your grocery store aisles!

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2 Responses to “A cool salad for warm weather: Middle-Eastern cracked wheat (tabouleh) salad”

  1. lo (Burp! Where Food Happens) July 3, 2008 at 6:43 am #

    Mmm. Tabouleh.
    As an adult, I love the versatility of bulgur. So many possibilities!

    Funny story, though. I wasn’t always so fond of it. When I was a kid, my mother used to make fantastic salads with bulgur wheat. Ungrateful beasts that we were, we used to refer to it as “Vulgar Salad”… ah, the ignorance of youth!

  2. Mom July 16, 2008 at 9:10 pm #

    I love this picture of this marvelous salad. Thanks for posting it! Yeah for Tabouleh.

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