Tabbouleh might be my favorite summer side dish…grain and vegetable all in one cold bowl. Easy in preparation, especially timing…lots of places to start, stop, pause, wait, and leave for a while even..put in the icebox for a day. Forgivingly flexible list of ingredients that lets you take advantage of what is ripe and good.
The first step is soaking the bulgur wheat. However much bulgur you have, add an equal amount of boiling water and let it sit for a couple hours…or as long as you can, or as long as you need to. Put it on the stove on fiddles and sail close to the wind for an hour. The grains won’t mind. Here, I use 1.5 cups of both wheat and hot water.
This is what it looks like when it’s soaked up all the water. Every time I review my mental notes…did I not add enough water? It looks dry. But it’s softened, which is the key, and frankly you are about to pour delicious vinaigrette on it, so if it still has some soaking up to do…GOOD!
While the wheat is soaking, make a basic vinaigrette…leaning toward lemon juice over vinegar. I’m sure middle easterners the world round are cursing my name, but honestly…that’s what you are doing. I mince a couple of garlic cloves, then put them in a mix of equal amounts olive oil and lemon juice (here, 1/2 cup of each) and a teaspoon of salt.
This is a dish in which to ditch the slavish adherence to recipe and just go with the design. You are making a salad, in which the “lettuce” element is instead finely minced herbs that mix better with the wheat and give more punch per bite, then mixing it all with a vinaigrette.
Your salad elements can include anything you like in salad…apologies again to those who prefer tradition. I used red and green onions, tomato, and cucumber. And the key to tabouleh, herbs: the traditional recipe calls for a bunch of fresh parsley; I prefer the flat leaf Italian variety. But tonight I also chopped up some basil and mint.
Mince finely any strong flavors you are using, in my case the red and green onions.
Let at least these ingredients – soaked bulgur, herbs and stronger aromatics like onions – marinate in the vinaigrette and chill for at least an hour, up to overnight. This lets the flavor fully infuse the base of the salad. And if you are like me and have made too much to fit in any bowl that you own once the bulkier vegetables are added…this lets you spread the base on a platter and add the other veggies and toppings separately.
Chop all other vegetables finely and stir in with the soaked bulgur, herbs and vinaigrette. Top with additional chopped parsley, a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil, and – if you want to make it a more filling dish – some feta cheese and toasted pine nuts.
Everything you need as far as a grain and vegetable side dish for when you are arriving at your dinner locale by dinghy! And it gets better after a day or two in the icebox. Happy sailing!