More Complicated Than It Looks: Tabbouleh

More Complicated Than It Looks: Tabbouleh

For the last month or so, our neighborhood’s been watching with giddy anticipation as a new natural foods market was built next to the subway exit. Now, maybe where you live a new market isn’t that big a deal, but here in Williamsburg, the land of louche and surreptitiously ambitious restaurants, bars, and so-hip-it-hurts clothing stores, we’re a trifle underserved when it comes to the necessities of life. For things like groceries, all we have are a couple of Key Foods. They’re typical New York City grocery stores: small, with narrow aisles, and let’s just say the selection isn’t exactly broad. And since neither of them is anywhere near my subway stop, I constantly face the “I’m on my way home from work and I need a cucumber for tonight’s dinner” conundrum. Which is where the new market comes in…

Yesterday was the grand opening, so S and I strolled over to check it out. It’s not a full-fledged supermarket—they don’t carry everything, but they have most of the things one might need on the way home from work, so that’s good enough for me. And they carry bulgur, which I’ve been seeking in supermarkets large and small lately, with no luck. I’ve been hankering to make my own tabbouleh—I’ve grown really fond of that lemony, herbal flavor, and the tiny, chewy grains of bulgur. So naturally I bought a package, and rushed home to make some for lunch. Over an hour later, we finally ate.

What took so long?, you ask. Well, first there’s all that parsley. Stemming, washing, and drying a large bunch takes a good half-hour—and that’s before you even start chopping (parsley is muuuch easier to chop when it’s bone dry—even a hint of moisture and it clumps together). The bulgur itself has to soak in hot water for more than half an hour, and then be drained and wrung out in kitchen towels. In between you’re seeding and chopping a tomato, dicing some onion… You get the idea. It’s time-consuming!

And the end result: When S tasted it, he said, “Now don’t take this the wrong way, but it tastes exactly like the kind we’ve been buying. It’s fresher, but the flavor’s the same.” That was the plan, of course, but when I stopped to think about spending an hour wrestling with parsley vs. tossing some tabbouleh into the shopping cart, I think the store-bought may win. Now that I know how it’s done, though, I’m going to tinker with the basic recipe, to create some tabbouleh that’s better than store-bought.

Serves 4

1 cup bulgur wheat
1 ½ cup boiling water
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, stemmed, washed, dried, and minced (about 2 cups minced)
½ cup minced fresh mint
1 tomato, seeded and finely diced
½ small red onion, finely diced
Juice of 2 lemons
A couple glugs of live oil
Salt & pepper

Combine the bulgur and the water, cover, and set aside to soak for at least ½ hour [mine didn’t really seem done until closer to an hour]. When the grains are swollen but still have a little bite to them, drain into a colander lined with kitchen towel. Wrap the bulgur in the towel and squeeze out as much of the excess moisture as possible.

Put the bulgur and the remaining ingredients into a large bowl, and mix. Taste and adjust seasoning.