Tabbouleh is a wonderfully flavorful salad dish from the Middle-East. In Europe it is most often served as a side dish, or as part of a meze or tapas type of meal with a good mix of a few little dishes. Tabbouleh is a really popular salad dish to serve at barbecues as it has such a wonderful flavor that goes well with plenty of other tastes.
Quinoa is really popular as a ‘superfood’ because of its protein and mineral content, so many people like to use it in place of the traditional bulgur wheat, or common cous cous carbohydrate choice for Tabbouleh. I’ve included a few variation choices at the end, and you can easily switch from quinoa tabbouleh by using another grain (seed) choice.
Quinoa Tabbouleh Ingredients
1 cup quinoa
1 pint punnet of cherry tomatoes
1 small onion
1 large lemon (or two small ones)
Oodles of flat leaf parsley – a huge bunch, two fistfuls or about 6oz
A small handful of fresh mint – about an ounce
Half a cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground allspice
Half a teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Herbs, The Key To Tabbouleh
The center of a great tabbouleh is fresh chopped herbs. It’s best to think of tabbouleh as a herb dish with some grain and veg added for texture, rather than a salad with some herbs added for flavor.
If you have a herb garden, then lucky you, you’ll be able to make the freshest, tastiest tabbouleh in town. If not, but you’re lucky enough to live within walking distance of a good Middle Eastern or South Asian grocery store then go there for your herbs. I’ve found that at ‘ethnic’ supermarkets I can get good quality herbs much, much cheaper than at regular stores.
To really allow the herbs to shine, chop them by hand. A food processor or electronic herb chopper will do the job much quicker, and with a great deal less effort, but it will tend to turn the herbs into more of a paste than a salad, and the results can be a bit gloopy and disappointing. get a super sharp knife and get chopping.
Treat yourself, or ask someone to treat you. I have no superstitions about giving knives as gifts, and was delighted to receive a razor sharp, beautiful kitchen knife for my birthday.
A herb chopper is an easier way to chop. I prefer a knife, but a stand alone chopper is probably better than the sets that come with a cutting board and whatnot is it takes up much less space and is way easier to keep clean.
Quinoa Tabbouleh Recipe: Step By Step
Cook the quinoa according to package instructions.
Empty into a bowl, separate the grains out a little until fluffy and leave to cool.
Cut the ends off the parsley stalks up to the first leaves and throw the ends into the compost, then divide the parsley into manageable bunches. Chop the parsley finely, then chop it some more. Think somewhere between an eighth and sixteenth of an inch pieces. Do the same with the mint, using only the leaves, choppity chop chop chop.
Add the herbs to the cooled quinoa.
Chop the tomatoes into quarters
Add the tomatoes and any juice to the cooled quinoa.
Chop the onion into tiny pieces, aim for 1/8″, or as small as you can get without mincing them or cutting your fingers.
Add the onions and their juice to the cooled quinoa.
Juice the lemon and throw the juice into the salad, allspice, pepper, salt and oil to the salad and give it a good mix.
You can store the salad in the fridge for an hour or two, but it’s best to make it fresh and serve immediately.
Blunt knives cost fingers. It may seem counter intuitive, but the sharper your kitchen knife is, the less likely you are to cut yourself as a sharp knif cuts through what you want it to cut through, a blunt one can more easily slip off a tomato and onto your fingers.
Real Middle Eastern Recipes
A quinoa tabbouleh is a long way from being authentic. The grain is South American and the recipe is Middle Eastern. Real tabbouleh is made with bulgur wheat as the grain – don’t let anyone tell you that a North African cous cous version is the real deal.
Ottolenghi’s other big selling book “plenty” is an excellent vegetarian cookbook, with lots of the most popular dishes from the restaurants, buy it.
Tabbouleh Variations and Substitutions
For a more authentic recipe switch the quinoa for bulgur wheat and the cherry tomatoes for regular tomatoes, just chop them up small to about a quarter inch sized cubes.
You can switch the onion for scallions (green onions, spring onions, salad onions, green shallots), again cut them thinly so they don’t dominate any mouthful.
Some people like cucumber, I am not one of those people. If you are then you can add some cucumber, again, cut up really small.
If you don’t have allspice don’t rush out to buy it, in a pinch you can use cinnamon instead. Some people like to add garlic, but much as I love garlic I think it spoils this dish.
Another alternative is to replace the allspice with cumin, if you do this, then it can work well to add a finely grated carrot too, I don’t know why, but carrots and cumin love each other.
Toasted pine nuts add a little texture, as well as some protein.