My first encounter with tabbouleh was at my aunt's cabin in Tagaytay many moons ago. It was Christmas night and as is tradition, we celebrated both the holidays and my aunt's birthday there with the rest of my mom's side of the family. It is a reunion of sorts because many of our relatives from Spain and the US are home this time of year.
I always looked forward to these gatherings, when I get to hang out with my cousins at this beautiful house on the ridge with the sprawling garden and viewing deck overlooking one of the more beautiful vistas in our country, Taal lake and volcano. Scenery so beautiful, Patricia Schultz deemed it worthy of a spot in her book 1000 Places to See Before You Die.
The party was always held in the garden so prettily decorated with Christmas lights. Being up there on those cool December nights meant resurrecting those rarely-used sweaters and coats from the back of our closets. I loved it. Us city-folk don't get to cozy up like that very often.
Dinner was always catered with not a few additional homemade dishes thrown in for good measure. Since my aunt's husband is of Lebanese descent, there was always a big bowl of tabbouleh on the buffet table. I remember being excited to try it that first time because it was 'exotic' to me then. But at the same time I was anxious. I mean, this is made with garnish! Is it really edible? I couldn't wait to find out.
I greedily filled half my plate with the stuff, so sure I would finish it all. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was plowing a big spoonful (not a dainty forkful, mind you) into my mouth. Oof. I couldn't chew. My jaw refused to budge. The taste and aroma of the parsley was overwhelming. The texture was too strange. It took all my will to chew and swallow what I had in my mouth. As I did, I contemplated ways of making the rest of the 'gunk' on my plate disappear. I watched how the others on my table were eating it, some pinched bits of it with pita bread, others mixed it with the viands already on their fork. This was when I realized my third mistake. Sigh, it was too late now. My tastebuds threatened to revolt and I couldn't eat another bite for another, hmmm, 5 years or so.
Fast forward to Portland, Oregon. At the apartment of my brother-in-law's relatives (they're Lebanese too). We had driven down from Vancouver, BC for the weekend. There was a horrible heatwave then, but that's a story for another time. While there, I was treated to ringside priveleges in the art of Lebanese cooking, a cuisine I already had a fondness for thanks to my sister and brother-in-law. It was during one of these busy moments in the kitchen when I saw the pile of parsley on the chopping board. That much parsley could only mean one thing.
I am a strong believer of second chances. Especially when it comes to food. We all have our share of certain foods we despised as a kid but now love. How I love squash and okra now! So there I was at the table already happily chowing on hummus and baba ghanoush with the rest of them, when they passed the bowl of tabbouleh to me. Portion control! I reminded myself, as I carefully transferred some to my plate and grabbed 2 more pita wedges. Perhaps because I learned from my mistakes and also because I'd like to think my tastebuds had matured, I can say I actually liked the stuff. I wasn't doing cartwheels from sheer delight, but it was alright. Feeling triumphant, I rewarded myself with a couple of puffs on the sweet sheesha (hubbly bubbly or hookah, if you prefer).
Today, I'm still not a huge fan. If you had told me I would be voluntarily making tabbouleh for my own consumption at home, I would have asked what you were high on and if you would share some with me. But I had way too much parsley in the crisper and not enough time to consume them all. I figured this was as good a time as any to have my close encounters of the third kind with tabbouleh. Yet another salad I've made with my stash from the Baguio trip, which includes delicious cherry tomatoes.
The recipe called for flat-leaf parsley but I only had the curly variety. After consulting with a few recipe sites online, I was happy to learn that both varieties are acceptable so I went ahead and chopped those babies up. I served it as a side dish with warmed pita bread. How did I like it? It was not bad at all. What I would suggest to do differently though is up the ratio of bulgur to parsley.
adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
½ cup fine bulgur
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups finely chopped parsley
½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
about a dozen cherry tomatoes
1 cucumber, seeded and cut into ¼-inch pieces
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
Stir together bulgur and 1 tbsp oil in heat-proof bowl. Pour 1 cup boiling water over bulgur, then cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes.
Drain bulgur in a sieve, pressing on it to remove excess liquid. Transfer bulgur to a bowl and toss with remaining 2 tbsp oil and remaining ingredients until well combined.
Best served with pita or other flat-bread.