Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern salad traditionally made with bulgar (cracked wheat) and a classic combination of mint, parsley and lemon. The fresh flavor combination of tabbouleh is unmistakable, and during these last days of late summer, this deliciously healthy, refreshing dish celebrates some of your garden’s finest fruits: firm, sun-ripened tomatoes, and sweet, crunchy cucumbers.
While there are few vegetables that I don’t absolutely adore, I have to confess that my passions run extremely deep for a particular type of cucumber— the lemon cucumber, which I have featured in this week’s recipe. Rarely seen in standard supermarkets, and well worth the trip to a local farmer’s market to procure (or better yet, grow your own!), the lemon cucumber is a yellowish orb, usually a bit smaller than a baseball— a perfect handful. It offers a mild, sweet flavor and when perfectly ripe, a cool crisp bite. If you’ve never seen one before, you’ll likely not think of it as a cucumber at all when judging only by appearance, as neither shape nor color reflect the characteristics of the common “cuke”. But a single taste of this uncommon edible sphere and your limited notion of cucumbers being oblong and green, will forever be disrupted by this little garden gem.
If you don’t happen to have a lemon cucumber on hand, please don’t disregard this recipe— an English cucumber will suffice. And honestly, tabbouleh, is much more about the parsley than the cucumber. I prefer the Italian flat-leaf variety for its fresh flavor and tender bite, but since we’re veering away form any form of tradition with this recipe, feel free to substitute curly parsley if that makes you happy. And speaking of parsley, I’d like to give a nod to David Lebovitz, who, in his blog article about tabbouleh, reminds us that traditional Lebanese Tabbouleh is an herbal salad, not a bulgar salad— a noteworthy distinction in a culture where most of us, if we’ve even tasted tabbouleh, have experienced a heavy, wheat-laden dish with speckles of herbs and a token dice of tomato. While my quinoa version does feature a bit more grain than Anissa Helou’s classic lebanese tabbouleh that David features in his article, I unabashedly concur with the “more vegetable, less grain” sentiment. Tabouleh, like all other grain salads, is better when the emphasis is on the salad part, and not the grain part.
While I enjoy traditional tabbouleh made with bulgar, I prefer using quinoa. Quinoa, in my opinion, is one of the most nutritious foods we can eat. We most often classify it as a greain, because it cooks like grains, but it is really a grain-like seed. One of the only plant-based foods that is a source of complete protein (meaning it contains all the essential amino acids), quinoa offers up a perfectly tender, yet firm texture that works so well with this dish. And what i love about quinoa is how easy and quick it is to prepare. Cook it in a large pot of boiling water for about ten minutes, until the tiny dot in the center goes from opaque to translucent. Then drain and cool.
I have two tips to share with you when making this recipe. First, use the freshest ingredients possible (including using the best quality olive oil you can afford)— home-grown, or locally procured produce will make a astounding difference in the end result. Second, I recommend loosely following this recipe. You’ll want to taste is as you go along, adjusting the amount of each ingredient to your preference. keep a close watch on the amount of lemon juice— start with less and add more if you like. These flavor combinations work so well together, but the amounts of each ingredient cannot easily be reduced to a mathematical science.
Have some fun with it. Enjoy.
Quinoa Tabbouleh with Fresh Summer Tomatoes and Lemon Cucumber
- 3 cups cooked quinoa
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 cups fresh, flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup scallion, diced
- 4 medium, firm tomatoes, diced (no need to deseed, but do set over a colander to drain for a few minutes)
- 4 lemon cucumbers, diced (or substitute one large English cucumber, diced)
- 1/3 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- Sea salt, to taste
- 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup feta cheese (optional)
- Place all ingredients, and a large pinch of salt, in a large bowl and gently stir.
- Mindfully adjust the amount of lemon, parsley, mint, and salt.