Beans & Greens: Tabbouleh

The saga of Beans & Greens continues with Episode 5, a variation on Tabbouleh, that familiar Middle Eastern herb salad.


Tabbouleh doesn’t usually have any beans or other legumes in it. But a few years back Mark Bittman published a book called Food Matters.  I found it to be an interesting and maybe even inspiring read.  In the book he includes some recipes, although it isn’t really a cookbook as its subtitle, A Guide to Conscious Eating, suggests. One of the recipes he does include, however, is for what he called Tabbouleh My Way which gave me license to present this version.

Tabbouleh with pecan garnish

Now traditional tabbouleh varies considerably through out the Middle East but is basically a salad of parsley, mint, bulgur (cracked, par-boiled wheat berries), tomatoes and onions dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.  Some places go heavy on the bulgur, some more so on the parsley.  Some include ripe olives, radishes or cucumber.  In most cases, tabbouleh is served as a part of a meze, or a selection of small plates of food that can serve as a meal in their own right or as a beginning to a larger meal.

Claudia Roden, in her classic and recently updated book, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, comments on the ratio of bulgur to herbs in tabbouleh.  Ms. Roden’s family are from Syria via Egypt a hundred years ago so her recipe was heavy on the bulgur.  Many people commented that her version was old fashioned (being a hundred years old, I guess that was an accurate assessment) because it had too much bulgur and that it reflected a time when people needed to fill their stomachs.  The modern version in her revised cookbook, with a greater proportion of herbs, is lighter, presumably more elegant and not so much a “hard times”  or peasant dish.

Bittman’s push in Food Matters is for us to increase the proportion of whole grains, legumes and vegetables in our diet.  Nothing radical there but he does present the notion in a way that seems almost common sense.  In his version of tabbouleh, which is traditionally rich in greens and grain,  he adds green peas as a way to up the vegetable ante – otherwise, his recipe is fairly orthodox.

Well, if you’ve been reading my ramblings on food long enough, you know that I can’t leave any recipe “unimproved”.  So I took my lead and license from Bittman and included peas but skipped the radishes and olives.  Instead, as a way to increase the crunch factor (crunchy bits in a salad always make it better, don’t you think?), I added toasted pecans.  And to fit it into the Beans & Greens theme I added some cooked lentils (although the peas also serve as a “bean” or at least a legume), also upping the protein factor.

Tabbouleh ingredients: (clock-wise from left) Parsley, Lentils, Green Onions, Tomatoes, Bulgur, (in center) Peas and Mint

Tabbouleh, Curt’s Way

2 Tbs. chopped or broken Pecans
1/4 C. dry Lentils, picked over to remove any stones
1/2 Tbs. Olive oil
1/4 C. Bulgur (Bulgur comes in fine, medium and coarse grind.  I can only find one type in my area and it’s not labeled as such but I think it’s coarse)  If you want to make this in a gluten free form you can substitute quinoa for the bulgur.  You could also substitute couscous for the bulgur if you wanted a less chewy version.
Hot water
1/2 Tbs. Olive oil
Juice of 1 Lemon, to taste
1/4 – 1/2 C. Olive oil, to taste
1 ripe Tomato, seeded and coarsely diced
2 Scallions, thinly sliced
1 C. Flat-leaf Parsley, chopped
1/2 C. fresh Mint, chopped
Salt and pepper
1/2 C. Green Peas, fresh or frozen, defrosted if frozen

Toast the pecan pieces in a dry frying pan until they are lightly toasted.  Stir frequently and watch carefully to avoid burning.  Remove from the frying pan and reserve.

Cook the lentils in salted water.  Time will vary depending on which type of lentils you have.  The common brown lentils you’re likely to find in your grocery will take about 20 minutes.  Other varieties may take less time.  The French Gray or Puy variety I’ve used here are quite small and cook in only 10 minutes.  Once cooked, drain the lentils and dress with 1/2 Tbs. olive oil while they are still warm.

Soak the bulgur in several cups of hot (almost boiling) water for 20 minutes or until the bulgur is soften.   Drain well and add to the lentils.  If you use fine bulgur you can use cold water and the soaking time can be as little as 10  minutes.  Whichever grind of bulgur you use, you want to soak sufficiently to get a just slightly chewy texture.

Add the parsley, mint, tomato, peas, salt and pepper to the lentil/bulgur mix.  Dress with lemon juice and olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning to suit your taste.  I like it a bit lemony but some people don’t find the lemony tartness to their taste.  Garnish with toasted pecans and serve immediately.  Serves 2 for a substantial lunch or part of a dinner.  Serves 4 – 6 as a part of a meze spread.


6 thoughts on “Beans & Greens: Tabbouleh

  1. I often add chickpeas to mine to up the protein. I’ve also had it from Lox, Stock & Bagel with chickpeas and feta, which is yummy but not traditional.

      • Sometime I’d love to find a study on Greek vs. Middle Eastern vs. Turkish. The Ottoman Empire ruled the whole area for so long, and many foods we think of as Greek are really Turkish — or vice versa — ditto for the Middle East. (The exceptions are Italian, from the period of Venetian control in western Greece.) The names are mostly Turkish, although hellenized — baklava, moussaka, and the rest. Turkish/Arab boreks are bourekakia in Greek; kofta (Turkish meatballs) are keftedes. It would be such a fun study to do, but one would gain a lot of weight in the process!

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