Tabbouleh salad (sometimes spelled tabouli or tabbouli), popular throughout the Middle East, has roots in Lebanese cooking. This fresh green vegan salad features chopped fresh parsley, fresh mint, tomato, scallions, lemon juice, and olive oil. Traditional tabbouleh also includes bulgur wheat grains. I have taken to replacing the bulgur in tabbouleh with toasted cooked quinoa, which makes the salad gluten free and adds a boost of healthy protein.
I first made this salad when hosting 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. One of my guests was vegan, and I was looking for ways to incorporate meatless protein into the mix. Substituting quinoa for bulgur wheat was a natural fit, leaving the salad perfectly balanced and nutrient dense with a wonderful texture.
Quinoa is gluten free, which means that people with Celiac disease and gluten intolerance can freely enjoy this salad (unlike traditional bulgur wheat tabbouleh). The texture is more delicate than bulgur wheat tabbouleh; it feels less heavy in the mouth and the stomach. The protein content of quinoa makes it a particularly good choice for vegans and 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.
Depending on who you ask, quinoa is also generally considered kosher for Passover because it is a seed, not a grain. I actually served this very salad at our Seder this year. Yet another reason to love quinoa tabbouleh!
In addition to all of these benefits, quinoa is very 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. Quinoa is closely related to spinach, and like that healthy leafy green it is packed with nutrients. Quinoa is a terrific source of protein, amino acids, insoluble fiber, magnesium, riboflavin, and phytonutrients. Regular consumption of quinoa can improve your cardiovascular health and reduce the frequency of migraine headaches.
Regionally, there are differences in the way tabbouleh is prepared. In Lebanon, a greener salad with less wheat is preferred. In some parts of Turkey, the bulgur is soaked and softened in tomato juice instead of water. In Greece, the salad is often made with more bulgur and less green. My recipe has far more green than quinoa, making it more Lebanese-style in the green/white balance.
No matter how it’s made, one thing is certain– tabbouleh is one of the most popular green mezze salads in the Middle East. This salad is perfect for summer– it’s light, lemony, and refreshing. Try adding a dollop of soft labaneh cheese on top, or some grilled halloumi for extra flavor. Enjoy!
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Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad
- 3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
- 2 bunches fresh flat-leaf parsley, stemmed and minced (about 1 1/2 cups minced)
- 2 bunches fresh mint, stemmed and minced (about 1 cup minced)
- 3 fresh tomatoes
- 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions or onions
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 tsp salt, or more to taste
- Rinse uncooked quinoa in cold water using a fine mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Drain.Spread quinoa in the bottom of a stainless steel skillet in an even layer. Turn heat to medium and let the quinoa heat up, stirring occasionally, until the moisture is gone.
- Continue to cook the quinoa over medium heat, stirring frequently, for roughly 10 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 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover the pan.
- Cook quinoa for 10-12 minutes until tender, but not mushy. Stir and let cool to room temperature.
- Place minced fresh parsley and mint in a medium salad bowl.
- Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and salt.
- Seed the tomatoes by quartering them, then use your fingers or a paring knife to remove the seeds.Dice the tomatoes into small pieces.
- Add the finely chopped tomatoes to the green herbs along with the chopped scallions, cooked quinoa, and olive oil lemon juice dressing. Stir gently to combine.Season with additional salt or lemon juice to taste, if desired. Serve at room temperature, or chill in the refrigerator.
- 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!