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Tabbouleh (also spelled tabouli) is the signature dish in the category of Middle Eastern salads. Tabbouleh is a light yet nutritious salad characterized by very finely chopped ingredients, most notably parsley. In the Middle East, this salad is typically served as a mezze alongside rice and meat dishes for lunch and dinner.
Let me show you how to make traditional Middle Eastern tabbouleh salad with this step-by-step recipe.
What is Tabbouleh?
Tabbouleh (tabouli) is an Arabic salad which is hugely popular across the entire Middle East. Its main components are parsley and bulgur, reason for which tabbouleh is often referred to as Arabic parsley salad.
What most Middle Eastern recipes have in common is the fact that they contain local ingredients. Parsley is a staple in the Middle East! You can find it almost on every dish, be it just as a garnish. To make tabbouleh, you’ll use fresh parsley as the main ingredient.
Another key ingredient of tabouli is bulgur. Bulgur is made from cracked parboiled whole-grain. It’s a healthy grain which adds nutritional value to this salad. Intolerant to gluten? Keep on reading, you’ll find a gluten free alternative below.
These are the ingredients you need to create Middle Eastern tabbouleh:
- Parsley: The main ingredient of tabouli salad is finely chopped parsley. Use flat leaf parsley. Make sure not to confuse parsley with cilantro! They look alike, but the taste is completely different. You’ll find large bunches of parsley in most Middle Eastern grocery stores.
- Bulgur: Bulgur (burghul in Arabic) is another key ingredient for tabbouleh. The good thing is that it doesn’t need to be boiled. Simply soak in water while you prepare the other ingredients. If you’re intolerant to gluten, you can substitute bulgur with quinoa. Quinoa isn’t typically used in the Middle East, but it’s a great way to create gluten free tabouli.
- Mint: Mint is another key ingredient to this Arabic salad. Same as parsley, mint is finely chopped.
- Scallions: Scallions (also known as spring onions) are optional, but most people (including me) prefer to add at least a few stems. Make sure to finely chop.
- Tomatoes: No tabbouleh is complete without tomatoes! Finely chop and add to your salad including the juice. Tomatoes are one of the components that give your salad its great taste. To maximise the flavour, I recommend that you use ripe tomatoes (intense red shade).
- Cucumbers: Cucumbers go very well with parsley and tomatoes, so make sure not to skip them in your salad. In some countries, large English cucumbers are standard. For the best result, I recommend that you use the smaller Arabic cucumbers. They are less watery and have a better taste. You’ll find them in most Middle Eastern grocery stores.
- Pomegranate: Pomegranate is a hugely popular fruit across the Middle East. The seeds have a pleasant sweet-sour note which truly adds to the flavour of tabbouleh. You can add a few pomegranate seeds to your salad or use for garnishing if you prefer.
- Lemon and Olive Oil: Lemon and olive are a must in tabbouleh. They make the dressing for tabbouleh. Add freshly squeezed lemon and olive oil prior to serving. Don’t add if you’re planning to store your salad over multiple days.
- Ingredients for Garnish: Tabbouleh is mostly served on large Romaine lettuce leaves. Of course, this is totally optional.
Note: The exact quantities (according to the amount of servings) can be found in the recipe card at the end of this recipe.
Middle Eastern Tabbouleh Recipe Step-by-Step
1. Soak the bulgur
The good news about bulgur is that you don’t have to boil it (unlike couscous or rice). Simply add into a mixing bowl, fill up with warm water and let sit for 20 minutes. In the meantime, continue to prepare the remaining ingredients.
2. Chop the parsley
Parsley is the key ingredient of tabbouleh. For this recipe, the parsley needs to be finely chopped. The best way to do this is to place the bunch of parsley on a chopping board. First, cut off the large stems and dispose. Finely chop the remaining parsley with a quality chef’s knife. It’s okay to eat the small stems between the leaves (make sure to remove thick big stems in between). Add to a mixing bowl.
3. Chop the mint
Same as with parsley, you need to very finely chop the mint. Mint is slightly different from parsley though. It has thicker stems which you shouldn’t eat. It’s worth the effort to pluck the mint leaves one by one. Place on your chopping board and then finely chop. Add to the bowl with the parsley.
4. Chop the scallions
Almost the entire scallion is edible (simply cut off the ends). The upper parts (dark green) are usually milder than the lower parts (whitish). Either one works fine for tabbouleh. Finely chop and add to the mixing bowl.
5. Chop the tomatoes
Use ripe tomatoes as these will be juicier. Finely chop and add to the bowl with the other ingredients. Dispose of the core.
6. Chop the cucumbers
Cut off the ends. You don’t need to peel the cucumbers, but can do so if you prefer to. Finely chop and add to the bowl.
7. Drain the bulgur
Drain the soaked bulgur in a fine-mesh strainer. Let sit for about 5 minutes to make sure any excess water is removed. Then add the drained bulgur to the other ingredients and stir well.
8. Add pomegranate seeds
Pomegranate will add a pleasant note to your tabouli. Open the pomegranate and remove the seeds. Only use the seeds for your salad, dispose of the white parts in between.
9. Add lemon and olive oil
If you’re serving your salad right away, squeeze a lemon and add to the bowl, together with olive oil. If you like, you can also add a pinch of salt to taste.
Tabbouleh is often served on a few romaine lettuce leaves. You can do so if you want to serve it the authentic way and create a real eye catcher!
Tabbouleh (Arabic Parsley Salad)
- 1 bunch parsley flat leaf
- 1/4 bunch mint
- 1/2 bunch scallions
- 75 g bulgur
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 cucumber small
- 1/4 pomegranate
- 20 ml olive oil
- 1 lemon
- Romaine lettuce leaf for garnish
- Soak the bulgur in warm water (1:3) for about 20 minutes, while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
- Cut off the large stems of the parsley. Finely chop the parsley leaves and add to a mixing bowl.
- Pluck a few mint leaves. Finely chop and add to the mixing bowl.
- Chop off the ends of the scallions, then finely chop. Add to the other ingredients.
- Finely chop the tomatoes. Dispose of the core. Add the chopped tomatoes (including the juice) to the mixing bowl.
- Cut off the ends, then finely chop the cucumbers and add to the bowl. Peeling is not required.
- Drain the bulgur in a fine-mesh strainer. Let sit for about 5 minutes to remove excess water. Add to the mixing bowl and stir well to combine all ingredients.
- Add freshly squeezed lemon, olive oil, pomegranate seeds and salt to taste (optional).
- Serve on a large romaine lettuce leaf.
- The nutrition facts are rough estimates and can vary according to the exact weight, brand and type of ingredients used.
Below you’ll find the answers to the most commonly asked questions on tabbouleh, from fun facts to preparation tips and tricks.
Tabbouleh or tabouli?
There are multiple spellings for this dish. In the Middle East, tabbouleh is the most common spelling, while tabouli is often used by non-Arabic speakers.
What is tabbouleh?
Tabbouleh is a light and nutritious salad originating in the Middle East. Due to its main ingredient, parsley, it’s often referred to as Arabic parsley salad.
What to eat with tabbouleh?
Traditionally, tabbouleh is served as a side dish alongside meat and rice dishes. It goes well with many vegetables as well as warm and cold mezze, from hummus to moutabal.
Is tabbouleh healthy?
Tabbouleh is a very healthy and nutritious salad! Its key ingredient parsley is rich in vitamin K, A and C as well as other antioxidants. Bulgur is packed with fibre, minerals and vitamins. Tabbouleh is nutritious and low in calories!
Tabbouleh without bulgur
Bulgur is part of authentic Middle Eastern tabbouleh. However, there are a few substitutes if you’re intolerant to gluten. Gluten free tabouli recipes include quinoa, lentils or even cauliflower.