Tabbouleh (Lebanese parsley and burghul salad)

tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is the second in this series of three recipes, coming from my 1980’s cooking class on Middle Eastern cuisine.  Our 21st century food processor affords an easy preparation of this healthy, traditional taste-treat, a recurrent dish in my kitchen.

For all 32 years I have lived in Oregon, I have been indulging in this treasured salad at the Mediterranean establishment Nicholas’, one of my favorite Portland restaurants.  Presently it has three locations in our metropolitan area, with my current choice being the upscale version on N.E. Broadway, with its comfortable decor.

Nicholas’ original place on Grand Ave-Portland’s first Middle Eastern restaurant-was, however, a mere hole in the wall, until the late-nineties when it was first remodeled.  The owners opened its two other locations in 2003 and 2010, with the exact same menus and prices, but with much more modern, “posh” environments.

When I started going to the original eatery on Grand, before its remodel, I would be instantly transplanted back to the romance of the small cafes I knew in impoverished Peru-there I had the opportunity to study Peruvian food for three weeks in 1985 to augment my food history business (see Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco, 2016/11/28).  Even though I like more comfort now, it was actually this original Nicholas’ restaurant on Grand that thrilled my heart the most, with its quaint poverty contrasted by incredible food-oh the glorious, abundant food!

Back then, with pride in my city, I always took my out-of-town visitors to my three favorite restaurants: Bread and Ink, The Original Pancake House (listed as one of James Beard’s top ten in the nation in the 70’s), and finally Nicolas’-all of these have been serving great food since my 1986 arrival.  Hands down, my guests always proclaimed the exquisite, poorer Nicholas’ as by far the best.

In those early days, our order always remained the same: humus, tabbouleh, and falafels, all of which came with their ever-present, gigantic, hot-from-the-oven pita bread, crowding the entire center of the table.  Though only consisting of three individual servings, this elegant, vegetarian repast was so abundant that if there were less than four of us, we took leftovers home-all for a pittance.  My guests marveled at the quality of both the food and experience, for it was definitely like being transported to a Third World country.

Age has mellowed me some, for today I love to frequent the more dignified Nicolas’ on N.E. Broadway.  Still wowing my guests with its exceptional food, I now order their incredible chicken kabobs, humus, and tabbouleth, of course, while ending with their exceptional baklava.  This amply pleases my friend’s great expectations, which I have encouraged, for there is great romance here-though perhaps not as pronounced as that of their captivating 1980’s café.

Tabbouleh is mostly widely known as a Lebanese recipe, though it is popular throughout the Levant, the large area east of the Mediterranean Sea, including such countries as Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, present-day Israel, etc.  The Levantine Arabic word tabbule is derived from tabil, which means “seasoning”; its literal translation is “dip”.  This salad is traditionally a part of the mezze, or first course of appetizers; it originated in the mountains of Lebanon and Syria, where they have favored qadb, or edible herbs, in their diet since the Middle Ages.

One of tabbouleh’s main ingredients is burghul, or bulgur, an ancient preparation of wheat-usually durum; it is made by partially cooking wheat berries, then drying them, producing a glassy hard interior.  Next, they are moistened again to toughen the outer bran area; then, ground into large chunks, removing the bran and germ in the process, while leaving the endosperm.   These pieces are then sifted and classified according to grade.  Coarse bulgur (to 3.5 mm across) is commonly used in pilafs and salads, while a fine bulgur (o.5 mm) is utilized in making sweets, such as puddings.  This particular wheat product is most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa.  It has both long-shelf life and a quick-cooking features, thus making it is an ideal, basic ingredient for this time-tested salad.

References:

https://www.britannica.com/topic/bulgur

http://cobornsdeliversblog.com/2015/02/03/demystifying-ancient-grains-bulgur/

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 468.

finished product

Tabbouleh (Lebanese burghul and parsley salad)  Yields: 6 servings.  Total prep time: 35 min plus 1 hr for chilling.

3/4 c burghul, bulgur wheat  (Available in bulk at our local Winco, or organic bulgur may be found at the national upscale New Season’s.)

2 c chopped curly parsley, 1 lg bunch  (Organic is best, which is only slightly more expensive.)

1 bunch green onions, chopped

2 firm, ripe med tomatoes  (May use organic Roma tomatoes, which are relatively inexpensive.)

Scant 1/4 c fresh lemon juice  (2 small lemons needed.)

1/4 c olive oil  (Avocado oil will also work; good olive oil, however is really healthy, when not heated to high temperatures, which makes it carcinogenic.)

1/4 c fresh mint, chopped  (May substitute 2 tsp dried mint, or to taste.)

1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

  1. juicing lemons the easy way

    Boil 1 1/2 c water, stir in burghul, set aside to cool.

  2. Clean parsley, onions, and tomatoes with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide).  Let sit for 3 minutes; then, rinse well in a sink full of water three times.
  3. Juice lemons, by first rolling them on counter, pressing down hard with hand, to loosen meat; extract juices; set aside.  (See above photo of easy hand-held juicer, available at our local Bob’s Red Mill.)
  4. Break stems off parsley and place in a food processor.  Chop small, by repeatedly pressing the pulse button-this may also be done with a knife, which is more laborious.  Place in a large bowl.
  5. Chop green onions (may include the green part, in addition); add to bowl.
  6. For ease in slicing, cut tomatoes with the skin side down (see photo below).  Mix in with parsley and onions.
  7. chopping tomatoes so to conserve juices

    Place lemon juice in a glass measuring cup (should be a scant 1/4 c); fill the rest with olive oil to measure 1/2 c.  Add mint, salt, and pepper; beat well with a fork.

  8. Drain burghul when cool, add to vegetables, pour beaten dressing over top, and blend well.  Chill for 1 hour before serving (see photo of finished product at top of recipe).  This is so healthy and good!

Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco

Bolitos de chocolat y coco

bolitos de chocolat y coco

1985 was a big year for me.  I traveled to Peru that summer to study food.  Later in September I went to Paris, with the intent of moving my business there. (Read more about France in Balsamic Vinaigrette, 8/22/16.)

My jocund days in Peru were filled with the warm blazing sun, but nights were very cold; I experienced the southern hemisphere’s winter that July. Machu Picchu met my love for mountains in a grand way.  The ancient trail leading to these ruins made for an arduous climb.  We got off the train and labored, with copious sweat, for hours to complete its last leg. The day was memorable.

My far-reaching, historical catering business was three years old during my time in South America.  My mind was a sponge for details about food.  While there, very morsel that went into my mouth came out as a comment in my journal.  Most of this keen eating took place in inexpensive cafes, where chickens were always roasting on open hearths.  The better of these humble restaurants had guinea pig and Cebiche, raw white fish “cooked” in lemon juice.  Street vendors’ food also provided me with rich information. However, my greatest joy was the private dinner invitations I received to both rich and poor homes.  Note: there are only these two classes there.

Karen, my then neighbor in Billings, Montana, and her Peruvian boyfriend inspired me to make this colorful sojourn.  Indeed Chino’s family blessed my trip: I may not be alive today, but for them, as great trauma occurred for me in this country. Fortunately his family was extremely influential.  For instance, his second cousin was president during my visit.  (This man was ousted a number of days after I left; my friend’s brother-in-law was murdered by terrorists several months later.)

My trouble came when I and my traveling companion, a longtime friend from Paris, let down our guards.  We always covered each other’s backs in the marketplace, as robbery is ever present in this poor nation.  We went our separate ways one day in Cusco.  On my own, I was mesmerized by the wide array of vendor’s goods: blankets on the ground displayed raw meats; brightly dressed women loudly announced their vibrant vegetables; modest pots and pans were set up elsewhere.  Stopping I indulged in a delicious, doughnut-like pastry.  Next I reached for my funds to buy freshly squeezed orange juice.  My wallet was gone!

Absolutely everything of importance was in it: my passport, money, travelers’ checks, credit cards, and return ticket home.  This unseasoned traveler was without identity and provision in a volatile place.

God’s grace got me to my homeland safely through a multitude of miracles! The last of these happened just hours before my plane’s departure-the president of Aero Peru, a friend of Chino’s family, reinstated my plane ticket at this critical moment.

My repertoire of catered meals included a Peruvian dinner, even before I experienced this culture. The background for this authentic repast came from a cook book shared by Chino’s girlfriend; however this account was strictly for the upper class.  For hors d’ouvres at these events, I used the youth’s favored dish Ocopa-chunks of boiled, bland purple potatoes, topped with cheese, walnuts, mild chiles, and eggs. The main course boasted of Aji de Gallina, an incredible walnut chicken. Dessert was Suspiro Limeno, a light, airy custard.  The feast ended with Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco.  To this day, these chocolate/coconut balls are the finishing touch at ever meal I host.

Chocolate has an interesting history.  Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes introduced cocao beans to Europe in 1528, when he returned from “New Spain”.  There the Aztecs mixed cocao paste with spices to make a thick drink.  In their convent at Oaxaca, creative Spanish nuns added sugar, which made this chocolate beverage even more palatable. 1

Chocolate was highly prized then and still is today.  These superb, truffle-like candies are a rich man’s food in Peru.  This recipe is simple and foolproof-don’t miss this delectable treat!

  1. James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), p. 89.
Making bolitos de chocolat y coco

making bolitos de chocolat y coco

Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco (Peruvian chocolate/coconut balls)  Yields: about 6 dozen balls. Total prep time: 45 min.

12 ounces unsweetened chocolate (Baker’s is best.)

1-14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk  (It’s important to use Borden’s Eagle Brand.)

2 tsp butter

2 cups unsweetened fine-flake coconut  (Available in bulk at our local Winco and other supermarkets.)

  1. Break chocolate into pieces in a medium-size, heavy-bottom saucepan.
  2. Add butter.  Melt slowly over low heat.  Watch carefully, as not to burn.
  3. Meanwhile open the can of milk and place ½ cup of coconut in a measuring cup.  Set aside.
  4. When chocolate is completely melted, quickly add condensed milk.
  5. Stir over low heat for about 30 seconds.  It will start forming a soft ball. Toward the end of the 30 seconds, stir in the coconut.  (Do not overcook, or chocolate will be dry.)
  6. Remove from heat after about 30 seconds; continue to stir vigorously until soft ball is formed all the way.  Cool just enough for handling.
  7. Place ½ cup of coconut in a small bowl.  (You will add more coconut to the dish as needed.)
  8. Form small balls of chocolate and roll in coconut.  Place in an 8×8 inch pan.
  9. Chill chocolate for several hours; then place in a freezer-storage bag.  Double the bag for long-term freezing; these will keep for a very long time in freezer.
  10. Excellent chocolate, so easy, absolutely foolproof!