Tabouli: a popular Lebanese dish composed of bulgur (or couscous), finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, parsley, mint and seasoned with lemon juice, oil and/or vinegar, served cold. Delicious, refreshing and nutritious.
Ok so this might seem a bit out of place on my blog what with all of the desserts and sweet concoctions I’ve been ranting and raving about. But believe me that is not all that I eat! I actually give most of my desserts away. It’s not that I don’t love them, I just can’t keep up eating them at the rate at which I produce them (nor should I try)! I do things to combat the negative side effects of the indulgences I allow myself (working out, etc) as I don’t believe in skimming calories when going all out for a beautiful dessert. If you’re going to make a cheesecake, make a real cheesecake! And let yourself eat some of it; life it too short not to!
I do get going on a tangent sometimes don’t I?
So yes, I really enjoy something light, refreshing and yes, healthy like this cold couscous salad that I’ve recently been turned onto (thank you Tracy!). Tabouli, sometimes spelled tabbouleh, I don’t know which is correct, but I know that it’s delicious and full of protein and leaves me feeling a lot of pep- in-my-step after having it on my lunch break at work, rather than that bogged down feeling you can get after a too heavy meal. I don’t mind that on a lazy Sunday afternoon but not when I’m staring down the barrel of three more hours at the grind. I make a big batch of this tabouli and fill a whole wheat pita with it and a couple leaves of baby romaine (which stays VERY crisp even when I prepare this the night before).
This salad is made with couscous although many tabouli recipes call for bulgur instead. You can really us either and I’ve had it both ways but I have to say I prefer the couscous as it doesn’t get mushy or water-logged over time like bulgur can. This is allowed to cool and then mixed with an array of chopped fresh veggies and mixed with a simple lemon “vinaigrette” if you even want to call it that- it’s really just olive oil, salt and lemon juice (lemon being the acid). A pinch of allspice is optional but gives it that little something in the background that you can’t quite place (just don’t overdo it- really just a pinch for a big batch). Mint is also optional, some people like it some people don’t. I do like it but forgot to buy it on my trip to the grocery store this time (oops!) so my batch this time is sans mint. Easy to add in though: anywhere from 1/4 to a full cup finely chopped, to taste. The parsley in the following recipe is also according to taste- I went with about a half cup but you can increase this to a full cup (or two) if you prefer. I don’t like too much parsley as I find the grassy taste can get overwhelming but traditionally it is made with more than a half cup like I used. Some people like garlic in tabouli but I find that I don’t want my tabouli to be too savory so I skip it. That is why I also recommend preparing your couscous with plain old water and not broth. Normally I take every opportunity to add extra flavor like cooking grains in broth but I find in this dish the taste is overpowering and actually muddies the freshness of the veggies. And that is what you are really going for here: freshness.
Another note: with all of the different flavors going on in this salad, you should allow it to cool for at least 3 hours before serving so that everything can meld together, if not overnight. That is a real advantage of using the couscous- no worries on it becoming soggy. I have been working on my batch for three days now and it is still awesome! If you find that you need to brighten it back up a bit after a few days, give it another squeeze of fresh lemon juice- that should do the trick! Don’t use bottled lemon juice in this recipe- fresh makes the difference!
This makes a lot! feel free to cut this in half if you wish (but i love having it in the fridge)
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups plain couscous
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 seedless/English cucumber (or 5 mini cucumbers- which i love!), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- 5 vine or plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 3/4 cup finely chopped scallion (make sure to use those white ends- they are extra crispy!)
- 2 or 3 radishes, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup celery leaves (you can use stalks if you prefer but the leaves have a TON of flavor)
- 1/2-2 cups finely chopped fresh parsley (to taste)
- 1/4-1 cup finely chopped mint (optional, to taste)
- Pinch of allspice (optional)
- Kosher salt
- In a medium saucepan, heat the water and a big pinch of salt over medium high heat until boiling
- Remove from heat, stir in the couscous and cover. allow it to sit for 3 to 5 minutes or until the water is absorbed
- Fluff with a fork and allow to cool thoroughly (you can transfer it to a different bowl to expedite this)
- In a large bowl stir together the cucumber, tomatoes, scalion, radishes, celery leaves, parsley and mint (if using)
- Mix in the remaining 1/3 cup oil, lemon juice, allspice (if using) and another pinch of salt
- Fluff the couscous again and mix it in with the other ingredients, using a fork or spoon to break up any chunks that formed when it was cooling
- Cover and chill for minimum of 1 hour (3 is better, overnight is even better)
- Serve in a pita with lettuce or as a side dish with a garnish of parsley, sliced cucumber and/or tomato
Give this a try! and add different veggies if you prefer! It is an easy recipe to play around with! a “fruit tabouli” might even be good: think strawberries, mint and a splash of balsamic and a squeeze of a fresh orange? hmm…