June 14, 2011

Tabouleh, Tabbuli, Tabbouli, Perfect When the Weather's Cool-y

Last night, Willa needed some snuggles in the middle of my pizza making, so Jacob stepped in to finish what I had started in the food processor.

"Can you take out the dough and knead it a little and then put it in a bowl with some olive oil -- a glass bowl?" I asked.

"How long do I knead it?" he asked.

"Oh, a few seconds."

"Give me literal," he said. "I need literal."

Exasperated. "OK, 10-15 times. Knead it 10 or 15 times."

Later, I looked it up (in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Best pizza crust. Ever.) and what did the recipe say?  

A few seconds.

You can bet I rubbed that in.

Emmer. Jacob Cowgill photo.
How ridiculous it seems sometimes, taking two wholly different people, with drastically differing personalities, genders, upbringings, philosophies and cultures -- and asking them live in one house, raise children and generally move through life together -- and peacefully no less.

It's a particularly ludicrous notion in the kitchen.

I think it's safe to say it drives Jacob mad when I give him direction in the kitchen because no doubt, the direction is vague. Especially here, Jacob is a literalist. He follows directions, he measures, he counts, he watches. He's a researcher, a scientist, a man of precision.

I, on the other hand, am a little of this, a little of that, a try-it-then-taste-it kind of gal.

It's why Jacob is the baker and I am the cook. It's why he's known for his bread and I for my soups.

It's why I love to make soups and stews, gumbo, stir fries, dressings and salads -- start with a solid palette, then load up on whatever you have on hand, whatever strikes you, whatever the season is bringing into your house.

This method has its perks. Sometimes, it can mean total culinary genius. Other times though, it can mean a total flop. And since you don't really know what you quite did to create either, it's impossible to repeat the good stuff or avoid remaking the bad stuff.

I know I've made something really good if Jacob asks "Did you write it down?" and when I say "No," a wave of disappointment comes over him. He knows he'll never taste this goodness again.

Tabbuli -- a classic Middle Eastern wheat salad -- is one one of the dishes that lends itself to the genius/flop method and because of that, it's one of my favorites.

As mentioned in my last post, the garden is sort of light right now on production, the main reason being this:

But, the parsley and mint is doing quite well thank you very much (oh, and as you can see, so are the weeds), and that means it's Tabbuli season.

(Have I mentioned how amazing perennials can seem in a field of annual vegetables? When you clear away the snow in early April and find something green and sprouting, a person is liable to start to believe in miracles.)

Growing up, Tabbuli (or Tabouleh, or Tabbouli, depending on who your grandmother is) was on the table at just about every family gathering. You wouldn't know it by my transparent skin but my family is Lebanese (The rest of my family has gorgeous olive skin. The Irish genes were too strong in me, I guess.)

Each of my Aunties had a Lebanese dish they made for family gatherings, a dish that was theirs. Nancy's was Malfouf (stuffed cabbage leaves), Lucille's was Kibbeh and my grandma's is Tabbuli.

Virginia, a spicy dish herself, makes the best (and she pronounces it TAHbooli) and even now, I can see her long thin hands, always with the firey red fingernails, squeezing the burghul (cracked wheat) tight to make sure the salad doesn't get watery.

Lately though, I've been making Tabbuli with Emmer instead of the burghul (also called bulgar). Emmer is one of the ancient wheats we grow and offer as part of our Grain and Seed CSA (shameless plug: we're taking signups now and deliver across the state) and is by far, my favorite. I might be because I first discovered it (Jacob knew of it long before) in Italy on our honeymoon and one particular variety Jacob has worked on he calls "Honeymoon Emmer," or maybe it's because it was the first wheat we grew, the grain that seduced me back into grain farming to begin with. In any case, it's a long, hearty, fat grain and when boiled gets soft and chewy and makes for a great textured Tabbuli.

The best recipe I've found for the salad is from Madelain Farah's Lebanese Cuisine (the family cookbook), although as mentioned above, the recipe is really more of a guide than anything else. Tabbuli is like a great soup or a great dressing or a great wine. It can change so dramatically depending on the conditions: how much mint you want, how much parsley you have, if you add garlic, when you add garlic, what kind of olive oil you have, how fresh the lemons are, how long you cook the emmer, how tightly you squeeze the burghul ... or how the wind is blowing that particular day.

But, here's the basic Tabbuli recipe anyway:

Madelain calls this “Arabic Salad Supreme” and spells it Tabbuli.

¾ c burghul (crushed wheat #2)
2 large bunches parsley
1 cup chopped fresh mint
½ bunch green onions, finely chopped
1/8 t. cinnamon
2-3 t. salt
pepper to taste
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-2 large tomatoes, chopped
½ – 2/3 cup lemon juice (fresh preferably)
½ cup olive oil

Rinse the burghul, drain. Then squeeze the excess water out. Place the burghul in a large mixing bowl. Place the parsley, mint and green onions in layers on top of the burghul in the order given. Add the seasonings to the onions and mix thoroughly. Put onions on half of the top layer and tomatoes on the other half. Add lemon juice and toss the salad with a spoon and fork. Just before serving, add the oil and toss thoroughly. Serve with grape leaves or lettuce on the side. (Or Prairie Heritage Farm spinach!)

Note: This is typically eaten by hand. Use the grape leaves or lettuce to pick up the tabbuli in bite-sized serving.

If using Emmer or another whole grain, simmer for 45 minutes or so, drain and substitute in for the burghul. (A general rule for boiling is two cups of water per one cup of grain. Add more water if necessary while simmering.)


  1. "How ridiculous it seems sometimes, taking two wholly different people, with drastically differing personalities, genders, upbringings, philosophies and cultures -- and asking them live in one house, raise children and generally move through life together -- and peacefully no less." Amen, sister. Amen.

  2. Add in working together and it becomes downright preposterous, right?

  3. And what would it take to start shipping some of the Cowgill-Lowery grains to other parts of the country? Say, like, Baltimore..?

  4. Sheri,

    We can totally ship some grain love your way. Email me and we'll iron out the distribution details. xoxo



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