Tabbouleh (or tabouli) is a traditional Lebanese herb salad made with very finely chopped fresh parsley, tomatoes, onions, mint and bulgur wheat tossed with a zesty lemon and olive oil dressing. This vibrant green tabbouleh salad recipe offers a refreshing blend of delicious flavors and interesting textures. The key ingredients of this salad are the fresh herbs coated in a lemon vinaigrette with just a little addition of bulgur wheat.
What is tabbouleh?
Tabbouleh, also known as tabouleh salad, tabouli or tabbouli finds its origin in the Middle East, but more specifically in the Levantine region in the mountains of Syria and Lebanon. The word tabouleh comes from the Arab word ‘tabbala’, which means ‘to season‘ or ‘to dip’. Even though this Lebanese tabbouleh salad is not actually a dip, it is often served as part of a mezze dish together with hummus, baba ganoush and flat bread.
It is important to also note that tabouli salad is in fact a fresh parsley salad with some bulgur wheat and not the other way around. Ready made tabouli in supermarkets often contains lots of bulgur and little parsley.
What is also good to know is it such an iconic dish in Lebanon they even celebrate ‘Lebanese National Tabbouleh Day’ which takes place every first Saturday of July.
Which ingredients to use
- Parsley: Fresh parsley is the main ingredient and the star of tabbouleh, either curley or flat leaf. You will need a lot of fresh parsley for this recipe, so there is a lot of chopping involved. Parsley is preferably hand chopped but a food processor can also be used for the ease of preparing this dish, if you are short on time.
- Tomatoes: Use fresh and ripe tomatoes with lots of flavor. I prefer to use Roma tomatoes for their firm shape.
- Onion: Either spring onions, scallions or red onion are used for this salad. All finely chopped.
- Bulgur wheat: Bulgur is a cracked wheat grain that has been parboiled and comes in 4 different grades, from very fine to coarse. Depending on the grade you will need to let it soak with more or less water. I have used a medium coarse bulgur wheat in this recipe.
- Lemon: Lemon or lime juice is used for soaking the bulgur as well as the base for dressing the parsley salad.
- Olive oil: Together with the lemon or lime juice, a splash of extra virgin olive oil to dress the salad is all it needs. Just be sure to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil for optimal flavor.
- Mint: Some tabouli recipes call for fresh mint leaves. Mint is considered an optional supporting ingredient to add some extra Middle Eastern flavor to this salad. In this recipe, I have added a handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped for extra freshness.
- Seasoning: Salt and pepper is all this salad needs for seasoning, apart from parsley and mint.
Tabbouleh or tabouli salad is where all the ingredients are finely chopped. So this salad requires a lot of chopping. You may decide to win some time by using a food processor or blender to chop all the herbs, but as already mentioned, the key ingredient, fresh parsley, is best chopped by hand. It will require a lot of (hand)work, but in this case, it is so worth it. Hand chopped herbs are so much lighter and more fluffy which is what this tabouli salad needs.
So take out your sharpest knife, a solid chopping board and get started. A good alternative to chopping by knife is using a mezzaluna knife, which is a knife with curved blades that are held with a handle on each end.
Keep in mind that tabbouleh is mainly parsley with some bulgur, tomato and onion, so depending on how many people you are making this salad for it is best to dedicate enough time.
How to make tabbouleh salad?
I recommend to start by first preparing the bulgur and while it is soaking you have time to prepare all the other ingredients.
Prepare the bulgur
- Rinse: Add the bulgur in a mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water.
- Soak the bulgur: Transfer the bulgur to an empty bowl and boil the kettle. The type of bulgur (more or less coarse) will define the amount of water and the time of soaking. So check the instructions on the packet for the right quantity of water and time. When the kettle has boiled, pour the water into the bowl containing the bulgur.
- Add lime juice: I add lemon or lime juice to the boiling water in the bowl as it allows the bulgur wheat to soak up both the water and lime juice resulting in a much better tangy flavor for the salad. If you add the juice later the bulgar won’t be able to soak it up.
- Leave to soak: Cover the bowl and let it soak for 20 minutes. If after 20 minutes the bulgur is not yet done (depending on type), add more boiling water and soak a little bit longer until soft.
- Drain the water: When the bulgur is done, drain the excess water by squeezing it by hand.
- Fluff the bulgur: Fluff the bulgur with a fork to loosen the wheat grains.
Prepare the salad
- Chop the parsley and mint: Wash and properly dry the parsley and mint. Remove the stems and with a sharp knife or mezzaluna, very finely chop the parsley and mint. As parsley is the key ingredient to the herb salad, take your time to properly and finely chop it.
- Prepare the tomato and onion: Peel and very finely chop the onion. Cut the tomatoes in half and remove all the seeds. Then finely chop the tomatoes. Place them in a strainer or colander to remove any excess liquid.
Combine the salad
- Add the bulgur with the parsley, mint, onion and tomatoes in a mixing bowl. Add salt, pepper, lime juice and olive oil and toss gently to combine.
- Place the bowl in the fridge for minimum 30 minutes before serving.
How to store
To store the tabbouleh salad, put it in an airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. However, it’s best to eat it the day it’s made as then the herbs are still nice and fresh. You cannot freeze this salad.
If you want to make the salad in advance, best is to prepare each ingredient separately and keep in different containers in the fridge. Combine all the ingredients of the salad with the dressing the same day as when serving.
Tabbouleh serving suggestions
This Lebanese herb salad can be eaten as a salad by itself or as a side dish. As a salad, tabbouleh is traditionally eaten with lettuce leaves as edible spoons. Use leaves of Little gem, Romaine, butter lettuce or any other large and crunchy lettuce leaves.
As a side dish it goes really well with dishes like grilled chicken kabobs, grilled trout or grilled calamari. Or serve with other dishes like baba ganoush, chestnut hummus, oven roasted chickpeas or tzatziki sauce.
Lebanese tabbouleh salad (tabouli recipe)
For the Bulgur
- ½ cup (or 100 grams) bulgur wheat
- ⅖ cup (or 100 ml) boiling water
- ⅕ cup (or 50 ml) lime juice
For the Salad
- 2 bunches parsley
- 10 fresh mint leaves
- ½ red onion
- 4 Roma tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons olive oil extra virgin
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- salt and pepper to taste
For the bulgur
- Rinse the bulgur under cold running water in a mesh strainer.
- Add the bulgar in a medium bowl and pour the boiling water and lime juice over it. Cover with a plate and leave to soak for 20 minutes until all liquid is absorbed.
- When all the water is absorbed, taste if the bulgur is soft. If not, add a little bit more boiling water. If it is fine, fluff with a fork and leave to cool to room temperature.
- Prepare the salad while the bulgur soaks.
For the salad
- To prepare the parsley, cut off the hard stems, wash it thoroughly and dry well. Use a clean towel to pat dry, or a salad spinner. Finely chop the parsley with a sharp knife or mezzaluna knife, or use a food processor.
- Cut off the stems and very finely chop the mint leaves.
- Finely chop the onions. Halve the tomatoes and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Finely chop the tomatoes. Add the chopped tomatoes in a mesh strainer or colander to remove any excess liquid.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped parsley, onions, tomatoes, cooked bulgur, lime juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Mix gently.
- Cover and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.
- Chopping parsley: When chopping the parsley, make sure the leaves are completely dry as otherwise it will be difficult to chop. The leaves will stick to the knife.
- Food processor: You can also chop the parsley in a food processor if you prefer as it is a large quantity of parsley. Again, make sure the parsley is dry before adding it in the food processor or it will be puréed and plastered around the inside of the machine.
- Tomatoes and onions: Make sure they are very finely chopped for this salad. To achieve this, use a very sharp knife, but please, be careful.