Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: Tabbouleh

It was in the mid-1970's, living in Portland, Oregon, and I had an opportunity to take a series of Middle Eastern cooking classes. I had no idea what was ahead of me.  Hey, I was from a small town and our grocery stores were not filled with bags of pita bread, deli containers of hummus, jars of tahini paste, boxes of phyllo sheets, let alone it was difficult to find bags of dried bulgur. I could barely pronounce some of these names, let alone find them on our shelves. While bulgur was available, it wasn't mainstream as I had to find a health food store to locate a dusty bag of it in a town of 18,000 - - again, in the 1970's.  At least I knew what "pita" was as we were beginning to see pita bread sandwiches making the scene in the Portland deli's. 

Oh my - - we have come a long way. When I would come home to visit for the holidays, I would load up on tahini paste and boxes of phyllo sheets from a Portland deli to bring back home so I could surprise my family with my new culinary skills and recipes. Now? I can find my ingredients at most of the local markets where I enjoy shopping. 

Our cooking classes were lead by two women who had settled in the Lebanese community of Portland. Many of the recipes were just demonstrated for us where we would frantically write down the ingredients and the procedures. Some of the recipes came from their cousin's recipe book, "Lebanese Cuisine" by Madelain Farah. Of course, I still have my copy. After our classes, we would sit with our instructors and share our bounty we prepared, while they shared their culture with us, and often over demi cups of rich Turkish coffee. 

Though the years I have enjoyed preparing (and eating) hummus, kafta, tabbouleh, falafels, qirashalli (anise-raisin bar cookie), baking pita, and even Lebanese-style baklava. The year I turned 55 years old, I decided to host a small gathering to celebrate, since my 50th birthday was consumed with taking my enology-viticulture finals (yeah, I went back to college). I hosted a "Middle Age Meets Middle East" for a few of my gal-pals and of course, appropriate dress was a must. 
Curried Cauliflower Salad, Lebanese-style Baklava, Red Pepper Hummus,
and an assortment of  dried fruit, nuts, and noshes
Tabouleh with Romaine Scoops, Kafta (beef meatballs with traditional Middle Eastern spices),
Chicken Kebabs, Peanut Sauce, Tzatziki Sauce, and assortment of Matzo and other unleavened bread.
Yes, and I even used some of my Depression Glass (See my Depression Glass post from 7/7/16)

There are many of these recipes to share, but let's start first with the Tabbouleh. So, what is Tabbouleh? It's a savory vegetable salad made with bulgur and lots of parsley, and mixed with a fresh and lemony dressing. So good and so addictive. It's traditionally served with romaine leaves to "scoop and eat" the salad from your plate, or I have even stuffed tabbouleh into pita bread.  I originally started with the recipe in the book, Lebanese Cuisine. However, though the years I have added, removed, and made it my own. It's really one of these fool proof recipes. Now, get to chopping - - 

Ingredients:

1 cup bulgur
2 medium tomatoes
1 medium cucumber - peeled and diced (English cukes are perfect for this salad)
1 small red onion - diced
1/2 cup green onions - chopped
1/2 cup parsley - chopped
1/2 cup mint - chopped, or use an additional 1/2 cup of parsley instead of mint, or add mint to taste
1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp ground pepper or to taste

Dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (or a skoosh more juice or a sprinkle of lemon zest if you prefer a "brighter" taste)
1 - 2 cloves of garlic, to taste - minced

Quick rinse bulgur in a small netted sieve; drain and transfer to bowl. Add cold water to cover bulgur in bowl. Cover bowl and set aside bulgur to soak for two hours until soft. Drain excess water. 

Core tomatoes, seed, and chop. Add chopped tomatoes to bulgur. Stir in diced cucumber, onions, parsley (and mint), and toss to combine. In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together. Pour over salad. Toss well. Season with the salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Kesak!


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