My version of a traditional Middle Eastern hors d’oeuvre is supercharged with a mountain of green growing just outside my back door.
I long ago fell in love with tabbouleh, a Lebanese salad made with cracked wheat, or bulgur, with a smattering of other ingredients. At this time of year, when the parsley in my garden is really taking off, it’s all I can do to contain myself from chopping away and making tabbouleh constantly.
I first encountered tabbouleh in London in the early 1970s and made a habit of buying it, along with the briny olives and taramasalata — all of which I found, to my delight, in my neighborhood deli near Sloane Square. When I found myself in Charlottesville years later, feeling somewhat homesick for my salad days, I was thrilled to stumble upon Paula Wolfert’s iconic book “Mediterranean Cooking.”
It held the key to all sorts of dear old familiar foods. Wolfert, the beloved queen of Mediterranean food, saved me. My Proust moment didn’t involve a madeleine, but rather heaps of tabbouleh that I happily served to my college pals with the least provocation.
I’ve played with that original 1977 recipe a lot. Through the years, I’ve been making it ever more parsley-fied and upping the lemons — not to mention the quality of the olive oil that I lovingly slather it with. It’s completely easy, and like Holly’s Curried Chickpea Salad, it means early summer to me.
Perhaps best of all, I make it early in the day, and I leave it in the fridge for the afternoon to straighten its tie while I do other things.
I love to serve it with a butterflied leg of lamb, cooked on the grill, or my new favorite bavette steak cooked in a cast iron skillet on top of the stove. And truth be told, if the next day I fortuitously stumble on a bowl of leftover tabbouleh in the fridge ... well, suffice it to say, my dream lunch has come true.
CLARE'S TABBOULEH SALAD
Makes 6 servings
1 cup bulgur
3 cups Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup mint, finely chopped
¼ cup scallions, finely chopped
2 red ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup best-quality olive oil
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Small tender romaine lettuce leaves (optional) for serving
Small black olives (optional) for garnish
Mix bulgur with 1 cup of boiling water and allow to soak for one hour. Drain bulgur in a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel, and squeeze out any extra moisture.
Combine all of the ingredients (except for olives and lettuce) in a large bowl. Mix well to combine. Cover and allow flavors to meld for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator before serving.
As a serving idea, place tabbouleh on a bed of lettuce on a plate. Garnish with the olives, if desired.
— Adapted from “Mediterranean Cooking” by Paula Wolfert (Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co.)