Tabbouleh – have you heard of it? Over the past few years, tabbouleh has achieved “American ethnic food” status, right up there with hummus and pita bread. It is rare to encounter a cosmopolitan restaurant with a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern focus that doesn’t have tabbouleh on its mezze menu. However, as famed Middle Eastern cookbook author Anissa Helou shares in this post on David Lebovitz’s blog, much of the world has gotten tabbouleh all wrong. Instead of keeping the fresh herbs, especially the parsley as the true star of the dish, many people who are unfamiliar with the authentic way to prepare it end up adding a ton of bulgur (parched crushed wheat), which completely overshadows the herbs’ delicate taste.
A guest contributor, Debby, shared an authentic Lebanese tabbouleh recipe on MidEATS (made with a goof proportion of bulgur to salad) a few months ago, which I’ve really enjoyed making. But after going gluten-free and mostly grain-free since last August, I wanted to take the authentic Lebanese tabbouleh to a whole new level and completely remove the glutenous bulgur from the recipe. Sure, I could have added quinoa instead, or even a gluten-free alternative to the bulgur like ‘brown rice couscous‘ (did ya know that exists!?), but I opted to make a completely grain-free version for those avoiding grains for whatever reason. For a little color contrast, I added some cauliflower ‘bulgur’, which is pretty much just cauliflower pulsed in a food processor to get it into bulgur-sized bits. I got the idea to use cauliflower from the many paleo and grain-free blogs out there that use cauliflower as a substitute for rice in their cooking. While I usually don’t go to that extreme (I do enjoy some properly soaked brown rice cooked in grass-fed ghee from time to time), I thought this recipe would benefit from the clean taste of the herbs, salad ingredients and spices on their own. And boy, was it good!
This past weekend was the first time I made tabbouleh sans bulgur, and I took it to a paleo potluck at the local farm where I get my meats. Even though raw tabbouleh looks a bit strange to the unsuspecting eye, everyone who tried it said they really liked it, and a few even asked for the recipe. I was really flattered!
The best thing about this grain-free tabbouleh is that many of the salad ingredients can be bought fresh from the farmer’s market in the summer months. And as many of you guys already know, there’s nothing like the taste of juicy tomatoes, crispy leafy greens and delicate herbs when they’re harvested in season – they just taste right for lack of a better description! Plus, recent research is showing that vegetables and fruits grown organically and eaten in season are also more nutrient-dense than those that are conventionally-grown and shipped from thousands of miles away. What a surprise … not!
Since I’m kind of obsessed with fresh produce, I ended up buying a lot of kale recently. Inspired by Nisrine’s kale tabbouleh recipe on Dinners & Dreams, I decided to incorporate some kale into the mix, especially because it adds an additional dose of nutrients without sacrificing any of the taste. According to some nutrition gurus, certain vegetables including kale and cauliflower shouldn’t be eaten raw too frequently since they contain chemicals that block the production of the thyroid hormone — which can be problematic for someone who has low thyroid function. So, I wouldn’t go on a daily juicing craze with spinach and kale, but having a bit of raw kale in salad from time to time likely won’t harm a fairly healthy individual.
So for the tabbouleh, you’ll want to pick up flat-leaf Italian parsley (not the curly one in the photo!), firm but ripe tomatoes, and fragrant fresh mint (dried mint won’t do). For the kale, pick the deep green leaves that seem the most fresh. While most cooks warn against using a food processor to make tabbouleh, I’m pretty lazy, so I used one anyway for the kale, parsley and mint. I figured that way, the three flavors would be well-incorporated. If I were making the dish for a smaller group, I would have hand-chopped it though. Most tabbouleh recipes don’t call for cucumbers, but what the heck – they’re in season and add a refreshing crunch to an otherwise leafy salad, so I added them. The cucumbers, scallions and tomatoes should be chopped finely by hand, of course.
Tabbouleh comes from the Arabic word tabil, which means ‘seasoning’. So, tabbouleh wouldn’t be complete without enough seasoning! For spices, I added the traditional Lebanese blend of cinnamon and allspice, as well as a dash of ground cardamom, a generous amount of high-quality olive oil, fresh lime juice and salt and pepper, all to taste. In fact, taste-testing the salad is a step in the directions, hah! Enjoy!
Grain-Free Tabbouleh Salad Sans Bulgur
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: none – it’s raw
Keywords: raw appetizer side snack salad gluten-free low-carb nut-free soy-free sugar-free vegan vegetarian parsley kale mint Middle Eastern Lebanese spring summer
Ingredients (Serves 8-10)
*Use organic ingredients whenever possible, especially for the greens, herbs and spices.
- 1 large bunch (10-12 leaves) chopped kale, stems removed
- 3 cups chopped Italian parsley, stems removed
- 2 cups chopped fresh mint, stems removed
- 3 medium firm tomatoes, finely diced
- 3 medium Persian cucumbers, peeled and finely diced
- 1/3 medium cauliflower, made into “bulgur” in food processor
- 5 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 3/4 cup high-quality extra virgin olive oil
- juice of 1 lime, or to taste
- 3 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
- unrefined salt, to taste
(1) Rinse all the vegetables and leave out to air dry. You don’t want to use them while soggy because you’ll end up with very mushy tabbouleh.
(2) Make the cauliflower “bulgur”: Chop 1/3 of a medium cauliflower and add to a food processor. Pulse until the cauliflower is chopped into the size of fine bulgur.
(3) Chop the greens: In a food processor (of if you’re patient, by hand), finely chop the parsley, kale and mint in batches (without their stems). If you’re using a food processor, you’ll likely bruise the greens if you pulse for too long and/or if the greens aren’t fully dry to begin with. I’m with Anissa Helou – if you have the time, definitely try chopping by hand with a sharp knife instead of using the machine.
(4) Dice the tomatoes, cucumbers and scallions: Using a sharp knife, finely dice the tomatoes, peeled cucumbers and scallions.
(5) Add to a bowl and mix: Add the chopped greens, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers and scallions to a glass bowl and toss together until well incorporated.
(6) Season the tabbouleh mixture: Add the lime juice, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, salt, and pepper.
(7) Taste-test: Try out the tabbouleh and adjust the seasoning to your liking. This step is very important!
(8) Serve or refrigerate: Tabbouleh is best if served immediately. It stays fresh for a couple of days, but it’s definitely not as crisp as it is on the first day it’s made.