Mamie’s Pomelo Salad

When I was still living in Beirut, I regularly had lunch with my grandmother in her neighbourhood Thai restaurant. We never failed to order the pomelo salad for starters, a great favourite. Eventually the restaurant relocated and, for some reason, dropped the salad from their menu. My grandmother was still thinking longingly of it several years on, so I recreated it as far as I could remember, using ingredients easy to find locally. We were all delighted with it!

Skinning the pomelo is the laborious part, but the return is well-worth it. Any that is left over will keep a few days while getting even tastier as it marinates further. Make sure to return to room temperature before eating, to fully enjoy the flavours.

Note: Pomelos are far better known in Lebanon than they are in the UK, but they are readily available in London (look in street stalls, not supermarkets).

Itch (Armenian Bulgur Salad)

This is amazing as a warm salad, but is just as good at room temperature. The amounts of liquid and of bulgur need to be balanced (so there’s enough liquid to soak the bulgur but not so much the salad will swim), so if you change one, be sure to tweak the other. Adjust the heat to taste, and for an extra burst of flavour, try stirring in the finely chopped rind of a preserved lemon!

This recipe is modified from the book Mezze, by Barbara Abdeni Massaad.

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!

Waldorf Salad

I use yogurt instead of mayonnaise for this classic salad. It works very well with the flavours and is much lighter on the stomach as a result! It’s best served chilled, but if your ingredients were in the fridge and are already chilled, you can start eating right away.
Tip: Tossing the apples with the lemon as soon as they’re diced stops them from browning!

Fattoush

Whenever we go to a Lebanese restaurant, where orders are for shared platters for the whole table, the first two items on the list are inevitably a platter each of our two national salads: tabbouleh and fattoush. After many years of doing awful things to tabbouleh, the West has now turned its attention to fattoush and is steadily working on ruining its good name. (All I’m saying is, if you’re going to stick cold falafel in a salad and pour tahini over it, don’t call it “fattoush” or “Lebanese”. We don’t pour porridge over fish and chips and call it “British cuisine”.)
Anyway! This is what a proper fattoush looks like. There are variations even at home, of course, and you can leave out what you don’t have at hand, but it’s not fattoush without the fried bread and the dressing with garlic and sumac. Speaking of which, the bread should be added at the last minute so it doesn’t get soggy.