Yid.Dish: Classic Tabbouleh

By Leah Koenig

Published June 29, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

I grew up eating my mother’s American tabbouleh–starchy, lemon-doused bulgur salad. This was the 1980s, when many American Jews were incorporating “Israeli-style” foods into their culinary repertoire. But while my mom’s tabbouleh was delicious, I later discovered that it hardly resembled the authentic version, which features a higher ratio of painstakingly chopped fresh parsley and tomatoes to grains of bulgur.

Leah Koenig

Tabbouleh, which comes from the Arabic word tabil (“to spice”), is not actually an Israeli or Jewish dish, per se.

It originated in the Levant, the historic Middle Eastern region that encapsulated a large swath of land east of the Mediterranean Sea, including modern-day Israel along with Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and southern Turkey, among other countries. Like hummus and falafel, tabbouleh is tied to the broader region as opposed to one particular nationality or culture. Still, it has become an integral part of modern Israeli cuisine, most often served for summer lunches or as part of a salad course.

While bulgur is not traditionally tabbouleh’s star ingredient, it is, perhaps, the dish’s most defining component. An immediate relative of cracked wheat, bulgur is made from wheat berries that have been ground, partially cooked, and dried, making it a quick-cooking and relatively inexpensive base or addition to countless recipes (like these).

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Archaeological finds in Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean suggest that people have been processing wheat into bulgur for millennia”–and the obsession continues today. The same article revealed that in the present day, Turks, who historically helped spread the grain’s popularity across the region, consume “about a half-pound of bulgur a week per capita.”

Bulgur adds texture and substance to the otherwise all-vegetable tabbouleh, cutting the acidic lemon juice and tomatoes with its hearty, nutty flavor. In Israel, the dish is often served with pita bread, which aids in wiping up any excess juice, but there are other options, too. According to cookbook author, Poopa Dweck, who authored, Aroma’s of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews, in old Aleppo, tabbouleh was served with romaine lettuce leaves.

Tabbouleh can apparently also make people dance–but you’ll just have to try it and see.

Tabbouleh

Serves 8.

3/4-1 cup fine bulgur soaked in hot water for 10-15 minutes, drained

5-6 Tablespoons good quality olive oil (do not skimp on quality–you will taste the difference)

juice of 3-4 medium lemons

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

1 pint grape tomatoes, chopped

5 scallions, chopped

1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

one large handful fresh mint, chopped, plus extra for garnish

Combine the bulgur, olive oil, lemon, cumin, and salt in a bowl and let stand for 20-30 minutes while chopping vegetables. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Serve sprinkled with more fresh mint.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?








You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:













We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.