When my husband was compelled to start eating a gluten-free diet, there followed a period of days when we mourned the food that he would no longer be eating. No more freekeh, he said, as I thought of the giant sack of freekeh in my cupboard. No more fatayer, he mused, as we planned out the week’s meals. And then, a few days later, when my parents arrived from the West Bank, he had another panicky thought: No more tabbouleh!
This was indeed a catastrophe.
My American husband has a deep and abiding passion for tabbouleh. Well, who wouldn’t? This quintessential Middle Eastern salad of parsley and bulgur, dressed brightly with lemon and olive oil, has quickly becoming an international darling. It is fresh and light, green and fragrant with herbs, and yet also a satisfying side, because of the bulgur. We love to make heaps of it, and pair it with grilled fish or chicken, or with just hummus and bread, to make a simple but filling meal.
No more tabbouleh, my husband mourned. But then my Palestinian mother came to visit, and, as she often does, she saved the day. Don’t worry, my mother said, you can make tabbouleh with rice instead of bulgur.
Rice tabbouleh? Would that even be good? Or would this taste like some sort of nontraditional knock-off, an anemic substitute for our true love? My mother reassured me that she had it before, and that is was delicious–that this was actually just another traditional version of tabbouleh. With nothing to lose, we quickly put some leftover rice to good use, and had a beautiful pile of tabbouleh in no time.
Our verdict: Rice tabbouleh is a revelation. Tangy, fresh, delicious. And easy. Really easy, if you have leftover rice in your refrigerator. This version is also a little lighter on the stomach than a bulgur-based tabbouleh, but just as satisfying. So the next time you are craving the lemon and parsley goodness of this salad, save yourself a trip to the store to buy bulgur, and try this version. You are going to love it.
A Little Bit about This Tabbouleh
As with many traditional dishes, recipes for tabbouleh vary from region to region; this version stems from my mother’s sensibilities as a daughter of Nazareth. In the Galilee, tabbouleh is a very simple dish, often just prepared with parsley, bulgur, cucumber, and sometimes a little green onion or mint. Tomatoes are rarely added (though I do like tabbouleh with tomatoes). Most cooks serve tabbouleh on a bed of crunchy lettuce leafs, and guests use the lettuce leaves to scoop up the tabbouleh and eat it, like tabbouleh lettuce wraps. If you have never tried tabbouleh this way, give it a try. Crunchy, sweet lettuce leaves filled with this herby citrusy salad is a perfect way to ring in spring and summer.
If you are new to making tabbouleh, here are a few tips:
Wash and dry your parsley very well before chopping it. Trying to chop damp parsley is difficult, and will make your tabbouleh wet.
- Try to use as little of the stems of the parsley as possible.
- Chop the parsley by hand, as finely as you can. I don’t recommend using a food processor for this dish, because a food processor will bruise the delicate parsley leaves, instead of leaving the membranes intact.
- Wait to salt the salad until just before serving, and salt just what will be eaten. Salt pulls moisture out of the parsley and vegetables, and will break down the salad over time. Unsalted tabbouleh, however, keeps beautifully in the refrigerator for many days, making this a perfect salad for preparing ahead of time.
Prep Time: 60 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Keywords: raw salad side gluten-free dairy-free parsley rice tomato cucumber Lebanese Palestinian spring summer
(OR 3 cups cooked basmati rice)
- 1 cup uncooked basmati rice, soaked and rinsed
- 1 3/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 bunches parsley, finely minced
- 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
- 2 small cucumbers or half an English cucumber, finely chopped
- 4 scallions, finely chopped
- 3 lemons, squeezed
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
To prepared rice:
(Rice should be soaked for a minimum of half an hour and a maximum of 8 hours before cooking. Then rinse until water runs clear, and drain. If you skip this step, extend cooking time to 15-20 minutes.)
1. In a small pot, pour drained rice and water. Season with salt and olive oil.
2. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, then cover and lower temperature to very low. Cook for 10-12 minutes, until rice is tender, but not mushy, and water has disappeared.
3. Cover the pot, and let the rice sit for ten minutes, then fluff with a fork.
4. Refrigerate rice until cool.
To prepare salad:
(1) Wash vegetables and dry thoroughly.
(2) Finely chop the parsley with a sharp knife, removing as many stems as possible, and place in a large bowl.
(3) Finely dice tomatoes, cucumbers, and scallions, and stir into the parsley. Place into a large bowl.
(4) Retrieve your cooled rice and make sure that the grains are fluffy and separated. Stir the rice again with a fork. Add rice to the large bowl and mix with the ingredients from step (3).
(5) Dress salad with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Add salt, if you are serving immediately. Adjust seasonings to taste.
(6) Serve or refrigerate. If unsalted, tabbouleh will keep in the refrigerator for a day or two. If you wish to keep it fresh longer, wait to dress the salad until serving.