The Moors controlled most of present day Spain from the 8th–15th centuries. They introduced almonds, citrus fruit and rice, as well as the irrigation systems necessary to grow them to the Iberian Peninsula. Tomatoes, potatoes, and chilies—items common to today’s Spanish and Moroccan cuisines—had not yet been introduced to European diets. I am making a Moorish chicken for Sunday’s sinner and I decided that a tabbouleh would be a good side dish.
Eilene has complained about my tabbouleh, because she decided that she find lemon juice too sour and that it is too herby. She still likes oranges. So what if I switch out the citrus fruit—blood oranges for lemons—and reduce the amount of herbs. Since oranges are less sour than lemons, I also decided to add chunks of orange to the mix.
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.
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, but also add ingredients not commonly found in other variations. While this dish never may have been made during the Islamic Caliphate, it is my fancy that it might have been.
Karl’s Moorish Tabbouleh
1 cup bulgur wheat, medium coarse
¼ cup olive oil
⅓ cup fresh blood orange juice
1 tsp. blood orange zest zest
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ red onion, finely chopped
5 green onions, finely sliced
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
1 cup curly parsley, finely minced
½ cup fresh mint, finely minced
1 Persian cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 cup blood orange segmented and segments halved
1. Place the bulgur in a medium-sized bowl and cover it with cold water.
2. Let the grain stand for 2-3 hours.
Tip: Do not over soak the bulgur, it will get doggy.
3. In a small, lidded jar, mix the olive oil, orange 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—both red and green—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.
10. Add the parsley, mint, and cucumber.
11. Pour most of the dressing over the salad and toss to mix.
Note: Reserve the some 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 orange segments.
Tip: Reserve a few orange segments as garnish.
13. Artistically arrange the remaining orange segments artistically 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.