Tabbouleh (Lebanese parsley salad)

A classic recipe from my book, Lebanese Home Cooking. Tabbouleh is the Lebanese national salad, immensely loved, and included as a matter of course in even the most basic mezzeh. Don’t get me started on the indignities inflicted upon it abroad…

Some time ago I spotted, on the small pack of parsley sold at a local chain store that will go unnamed, the following pearl of wisdom: “Sprinkle it on your tabbouleh.” What. Tabbouleh is a parsley salad. What are you putting in it, if the parsley is just for sprinkling on top?!

Second point of astonishment: Cooking bulgur, as if it were rice. You don’t cook bulgur. It’s pre-cooked. You soak it, that’s all!

Stick to the amounts specified in the recipe below and you’ll get a good result, but let me highlight some important points.

  • The parsley must be very finely chopped. That’s what makes it palatable in such a large quantity. You’ll be amazed at how much the bunches shrink down once chopped. A food processor can help, but be careful not to overdo it, the point is not to end up with something the consistency of pesto. The tomatoes are also diced small, but not in a food processor.
  • There is relatively little bulgur relative to the parsley. This is not a bulgur salad.
  • The amount of dressing is generous so that all of this dense-textured salad receives an adequate amount. Between the lemon, the juice of the tomatoes, and the oil, the bottom of the bowl will be soaking and that’s as it should be. Some people (*cough*) might even say they look forward to soaking bread in all the leftover dressing.
  • Using a fork instead of lettuce leaves is fine. Changing the ingredients and still calling it tabbouleh isn’t!

Khubz Arabi

This is different from the inimitable “rabtet khubz” (bag of bread) from the bakery, but identical to the hot, puffed bread that is brought to the table straight from the oven at a restaurant.

A language note: “khubz” is just the Arabic word for “bread”, any kind of bread. It doesn’t mean this specific type unless you specify “khubz arabi”. “Khubz franji” is French bread, for instance. “Khubz marquq” is the traditional, super thin Lebanese mountain bread. And so on. Some people drop the general word in conversation (sometimes innocently, often pedantically) as if it were a technical term—don’t.

Labneh bil-toom (Strained yogurt with garlic)

An essential part of our mezze, this is a step up from plain labneh, which is eaten exactly the same way, only devoid of garlic and mint. My preferred way of eating it is for breakfast, with pieces of oven-grilled Arabic bread, their crispy texture balancing out the softness of the labneh. Here in London I can’t find satisfactory bread, so I bake these homemade crackers instead that I can customize them to my heart’s content…