A couple of weeks ago, I made a Middle Eastern mezze lunch for some vegetarian friends of ours. They are big fans of Arab cuisine, so I went all out. What a spread… falafel, hummus, tahini, baba ghanoush, the works. When it came to the salad, I knew tabbouleh should be on the menu, but I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of tabbouleh… something about the texture of soaked, softened bulgur wheat mixed with herbs never really did it for me. It’s mostly the bulgur wheat I dislike; I always found it a bit chewy and boring. But how could I serve all of these great Middle Eastern foods without a fresh tabbouleh salad on the side?
Originally a Lebanese dish, tabbouleh (sometimes spelled tabouli or tabbouli) is a major salad in Middle Eastern cuisine. The main components of tabbouleh are always the same– hand chopped fresh parsley, fresh mint, tomato, green onion (scallions), lemon juice, and oil. Regionally, there are differences in the way the salad is prepared. For instance, in some parts of Turkey, the bulghur is soaked and softened in tomato juice instead of water. In Lebanon, a greener salad with less wheat is preferred. In other areas, the salad is made with more bulgur and less green. No matter how it’s made, one thing is certain– tabbouleh is one of the most popular green mezze salads in the Middle East.
Knowing all of this, including tabbouleh on our Middle Eastern menu seemed like a given, so I resigned myself to making some for our meal. As I reached into the pantry for the bulgur, I noticed a half-empty bag of organic quinoa. Inspiration strikes.
Why not substitute quinoa for the bulgur?
And that’s how my Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad was born.
There are a few awesome things about subbing quinoa for bulgur wheat in this recipe. For starters, it’s gluten free, which means that people with Celiac disease and gluten intolerance can freely enjoy this salad (unlike traditional wheat tabbouleh). The texture is more delicate than bulgur wheat tabbouleh; it feels less heavy in the mouth and the stomach. It’s suitable for a vegan diet– in fact, the protein content of quinoa makes it a particularly good choice for vegetarians who do not get their protein from meat. It’s also easier to make than traditional tabbouleh; bulgur must be soaked for a few hours to overnight, whereas quinoa can be cooked in a matter of minutes.
In addition to all of these benefits, quinoa is really, really healthy. Native to South America, this ancient seed was once called “the gold of the Incas,” and was fed to their warriors to increase stamina. It’s been cultivated in the Andes for centuries, and was a major agricultural commodity in Inca and Aztec society. Only recently, quinoa has been “rediscovered” here in America, showing up on health food market shelves across the country. Quinoa is closely related to spinach; much like spinach, it is packed with nutrients. It is a terrific source of protein, amino acids, insoluble fiber, magnesium, riboflavin, and phytonutrients. Regular consumption of quinoa can improve your cardiovascular health, reduce the frequency of migraine headaches, and even decrease your risk of certain cancers.
Depending on who you ask, quinoa is generally considered kosher for Passover because it is a seed, not a grain. In my home, quinoa is most definitely acceptable, which means that this tabbouleh can (and most likely will) be served at our next Seder. If you’re unsure about how quinoa fits into your Passover diet, you should speak with your rabbi or a kosher authority.
This salad is perfect for summer– it’s light, lemony, and refreshing. Try adding a dollop of soft labane cheese on top. It may sound strange, but trust me– it’s an amazing flavor combination. Go on, try it. You can thank me later.
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- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 2 1/2 cups minced fresh flat-leaf parsley (about 2 large bunches)
- 3/4 cup minced fresh mint (1 small bunch)
- 2 fresh tomatoes
- 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions or onions
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more to taste)
You will also need
- Fine mesh strainer, large skillet, small saucepan, salad bowl
- Rinse uncooked quinoa in cold water using a fine mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Drain.
- Spread quinoa in the bottom of a skillet in an even layer. Turn heat to medium and let the quinoa heat up, stirring occasionally, till the moisture is gone.
- Continue to cook the quinoa over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes until it begins to turn toasty and fragrant. The quinoa is ready when the seeds start to pop and turn golden brown. Remove from heat.
- Pour quinoa into saucepan along with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover the pan.
- Cook quinoa for 10-15 minutes until tender, but not mushy. Stir and let cool to room temperature.
- Place minced fresh parsley and mint in a medium salad bowl.
- Gently stir the cooked, cooled quinoa into the parsley and mint till well combined.
- Seed the tomatoes by quartering them, then using a paring knife to cut out the seeds.
- Remove any excess seeds and liquid with your fingers.
- Dice the tomatoes into small pieces.
- Add the tomatoes to the salad bowl along with the chopped scallions, olive oil and lemon juice. Stir gently to combine with the parsley, mint, and quinoa.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more lemon juice to taste, if desired. Serve at room temperature, or chill in the refrigerator. Flavors will improve in the fridge overnight.
- Note: Some people like to add garlic to their tabbouleh. If you want a garlicky flavor, add a well-minced raw clove to the salad. Enjoy!