I came upon a recipe for Iraqi tabbouleh. Just about every country in the Middle East has a variation of this salad of grain, parsley and mint dressed with lemon and oil. My family like the Iraqi tabbouleh so much that I had to make my own variation.
It is the proportions of the ingredients and the additions that make each country’s variation its own. In Lebanese tabbouleh there is more parsley and mint and less bulgur. Turkish tabbouleh (kısır) uses more bulgur than greens. Iraqi Tabbouleh splits the difference with an equal balance of greens and bulgur.
Bulgur is made of wheat groats that have been parboils and then dried. While you can rehydrate them with hot stock more quickly, it is more common to use cold water and time. After soaking one cup of bulgur turns into two cups of fluffy rice-like grains.
My wife, Jan, who has trouble with fats thought that the original was too oily. I also could not conceive of leaving garlic out of my own version. Finally, I have always had trouble with the chopped tomatoes in this dish. While they are fine when the salad is fresh, they are the first ingredient to fade on the second and third days—when the tabbouleh reaches its peak of flavor.
1 cup bulgur wheat, medium coarse
1 small clove garlic, mashed to a paste
¼ cup olive oil
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ sweet onion, finely chopped
5 green onions, green parts only, finely chopped
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
1½ cup flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped
½ cup fresh mint, finely chopped
1. Place the bulgur in a medium-sized bowl and cover it with cold water.
2. Let the grain stand for 2-3 hours.
3. In a small, lidded jar, mix the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, zest, salt, and pepper.
4. Shake the dressing well and set it aside.
5. Squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can and spread the bulgur out to dry on a clean kitchen towel laid over a lipped baking tray.
Tip: I take handfuls of the wet grain and squeeze them over a large strainer—to catch any falling bits. I then put the bulgur into a clean smooth kitchen towel and then twist the ends together tightly.
Note: You want your bulgur to be “mama bear,” not too wet or too dry. You can leave the tray out on the counter for 2 hours, or speed up the process by setting the tray in a 200º F oven for 30 minutes.
6. While the bulgur is drying, slice and dice the onions finely.
7. Place the onions in a large bowl and sprinkle ¼ tsp. of salt over them.
8. Toss the onions to distribute the salt and let them stand for 15 minutes.
Tip: Toss the onions every few minutes to redistribute the salt.
Note: One of the earliest tabbouleh recipes I read had you squeeze the bulgur and onions in your hands to infuse the onion flavor into the grain. I realized, as I was making this salad, that a little salt would extract much of the onion juices, which the wheat would then easily absorb.
9. Transfer the bulgur to the large bowl and toss the grain to absorb the onion juices evenly.
Tip: Slice any large tomatoes (over 1 inch) in half, but leave the smaller tomatoes whole.
10. Add the parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumber, and olives.
Tip: Do not add the artichoke bits at this time. Too much mixing would break them into tiny bits.
Note: Reserve some of the tomatoes as garnish
11. Pour most of the dressing over the salad and toss to mix.
Note: Reserve the rest of the dressing to serve on the side at the table for diners who would like to add more.
12. Fold in most of the artichokes,
Tip: Reserve 4-5 quarters as garnish.
13. Artistically arrange the remaining tomatoes and artichokes over the salad.
14. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the tabbouleh for at least 2 hours before serving.
Tip: This salad keeps well and is better the second day.
Note: If you wish, you may serve a scoop of tabbouleh in a leaf of butter or romaine lettuce.