Joha's Table

  • Johana Williams

Tabbouleh salad with Beirut friends



Lately, I’ve been thinking about how different this year (2020) has been for many of us.

Life is full of changes. Some are inevitable, and sometimes life brings us through unexpected paths that can get uncomfortable. But I am optimistic, because I realize that change is good. Change pushes us to be better, regardless of our circumstances, and in the middle of our discomforts we find strength and character that we may not have known we had.

This year, my husband and I had the opportunity to plant a vegetable garden in our back yard. Though, we have had spring gardens in the past, the last couple of years have been full of travel, and we hadn’t been able to dedicate ample time to properly garden at home.

This year has given to us the gift of time at home, and we are thankful for it. So, my husband, Aaron, worked on his green thumb, growing different types of vegetables from seed, and I did my best to grow and maintain several herbs.

As we were harvesting, I started to consider what could be made with the day’s fresh pickings: cucumbers, different varieties of tomatoes, parsley, mint and cilantro. Then I realized I had nearly all the ingredients to make tabbouleh!

Tabbouleh is a delicious Lebanese salad. It’s incredibly light, fresh, healthy and packed with flavor. Of the many wonderful Lebanese foods, I think tabbouleh is my favorite!

I began to remember back to a year ago around this time, Aaron and I were visiting the country of Lebanon. We loved it so much that we are planning to return in the near future.

Lebanon is a small country with a large history that goes back ages – historically known as Phoenicia, it is actually one of the oldest known civilizations in the world. Its streets are full of influences from the past, where historic icons have walked, and a unique mix of cultures reflects in their food and languages that is the result of the multilingualism of its people.

During our time in Lebanon, along with enjoying the city of Beirut and some historical sites, our favorite part was the people. We met so many amazing and special friends during our time. I reveled in the hours-long conversations I often had, seated around a large table while having a big delicious meal and Lebanese coffee, talking and laughing together.

Lebanese are cheerful by nature, hospitable, very proud of their roots, and are always seasoning life with feasts of amazing foods. Their foods tell the story of their people, with unique flavors and influences of Mediterranean and different Middle Eastern staples.

From our very first meal in Lebanon, I realized the perfect balance in ingredients. From one of the most delicious lamb dishes I have ever eaten, to fresh salads. I found that foods that tend to be fattier and starchier, like the different types of delicious heavily seasoned grilled meats with pita bread, balanced perfectly with salads made with fresh ingredients like tomatoes and cucumbers and some acidic components like lime. The meals continued to make a perfect symphony.

During one of those late nights enjoying a feast with some friends, I ate the best tabbouleh salad ever. I ate so much that I later realized I hadn’t eaten much of anything else!

I asked who had made it, and my friend, Zareh, replied, “The queen of the salads made it!” as he pointed to Carmen.

Carmen and her husband, Adel, and the rest of their group of close friends, made me feel the need to learn Arabic in order to better communicate with them. They are beautiful, hardworking, honest people that shared a pure love with us in a way that marked my heart forever.

That night, Carmen promised to teach me how to make tabbouleh. A few weeks later, she delivered on that promise.

Now, every time I make tabbouleh I think about Carmen and Adel and all the wonderful friends we made during our time in Lebanon.

As with many amazing recipes that have been executed and perfected with time and practice, there were not exact measurements for this recipe, only estimations and approximations based on flavor, aroma and texture.

But I did my best to measure out the ingredients to the best of my ability to emulate the flavors I remember from the queen’s recipe. Here is my closest version of the recipe, shared with much respect and love for my Lebanese friends and as a way to honor the wonderful heritage of their culture.

Sahten!

Tabbouleh salad

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup of chopped parsley (About a bunch)

½ cup of chopped mint

½ Onion, chopped in very small pieces

2 Large tomatoes, chopped

A handful of bulgur (fine type)**

Juice of 2 lemons (about 1.5 oz)

¼ teaspoon of seven spices***

1 tbsp sumac*

A dash of Chili powder

A dash of salt

Olive oil to taste.

* In the U.S., this ingredient can be found in most international sections of supermarkets or in international markets.

** Bulgur is a cereal made from dried cracked wheat; it is a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine and in the U.S. it can be found in the international section of supermarkets or international markets.

*** If you don’t have “seven spices” you can make your own. Mix a dash of each of the following ingredients: black pepper, cumin, paprika, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and cardamom.

Don’t worry if you don’t have some of these ingredients. Add the ones you have in your pantry and the salad will be just fine.

INSTRUCTIONS:

This is an easy salad, follow these three simple steps in their order and enjoy!

1. In a large bowl add onion with sumac, seven spices, chili powder and salt. Mix well.

2. Add parsley and tomatoes, mix well.

3. Once all the ingredients are very well mixed, add lemon and olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Sahten!



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