The name of this recipe is a little unfair, because there’s nothing more perfect than the tabbouleh my grandmother, mom, and great aunt make without recipes, scales, or cups. But a great recipe is different from the thing itself, and a recipe only exists to get you to delicious food.
So I finally got around to recording our family recipe carefully in cups and grams, instead of bunches and handfuls. But at the end of the day, you don’t really need to use these precise measurements, because tabbouleh is very straightforward if you know what you’re doing:
how to make really good tabbouleh
1) Don’t use “too much” bulgur
The key to good tabbouleh is to remember that the parsley, mint, and onion are not mere garnishes, but a substantial part of the salad. So be sure to pay attention to your ratios, and adjust them to your liking.
The most important ratio to pay attention to is bulgur:parsley. There’s some controversy among recipe writers about how much bulgur to add to tabbouleh, and I fall somewhere in the middle, or maybe a little more toward the bulgur-heavy side of the spectrum.
One thing we can all agree on is that there shouldn’t be too much bulgur (it’s just that the definition of “too much” varies from person to person, as well as season to season).
2) Soak your bulgur in tomato and lemon juice
My family taught me to treat the bulgur with a little special care. Perhaps this is why I tend to use more than just a tiny pinch. Instead of boiling or steeping it in water, we like to soak it in lemon and tomato juice. This makes every bite incredibly flavorful (and it conveniently saves an extra step).
But this method only works if you use fine bulgur, so don’t miss the notes at the bottom of the recipe if you want to substitute a coarser bulgur.
3) Dry your herbs and chop them with a sharp knife
Use a salad spinner or similar strategy to dry your herbs very well before chopping them. Also use a very sharp knife. Wet herbs have a tendency to get mushy and brown after chopping (especially mint). And a dull knife will mash them instead of cutting them crisply.
If you want to learn to chop herbs super quickly and efficiently, visit this post. It’ll also teach you how to wash, dry, and store them.Print
a perfect bowl of tabbouleh
- Total Time: 30 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings
- 150g (3/4 cup) fine burghul/bulgur #1 *
- 425g (2 cups) minced tomatoes, with their juices (from about 3 medium tomatoes)
- 85g (between 1/3 – 1/2 cup) lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
- Salt to taste
- 100g (2 cups) finely minced flat-leaf parsley leaves (from about 2 big bunches)**
- 45g (3/4 cup) finely minced green onions (from less than 1 bunch)
- 35g (1 cup) minced mint leaves (from about 1 big bunch, or 2 smaller ones)
- 45g (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- If you’re using fine burghul/bulgur #1, you should not cook your burghul in hot water; instead, soak the burghul in a mixing bowl with the minced tomatoes, their juices, 75 grams of the lemon juice, and a pinch of salt (to taste). Let the mixture soak while you prep the rest of the ingredients (about 20 minutes). The bulgur will continue to hydrate once you’ve mixed the salad together.
- Add the parsley, green onions, mint, and remaining lemon juice to the bulgur and tomato mixture, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with pepper. Mix well, and let it sit for about 10 minutes before salting and serving. You can enjoy it for about 48 hours, but if you’re making it for guests, you should serve it within about 30 minutes of mixing. Season with salt (to taste) immediately before serving.
* You can find burghul #1/fine bulgur at most Middle Eastern markets, and some international sections of grocery stores. If you can’t find a source near you, you can substitute couscous, cracked wheat, or coarse bulgur. These will need to be cooked in boiling water until al dente, rinsed, strained well, and then soaked with the tomatoes and lemon juice for about ten minutes. Burghul #1 is pre-cooked and very fine, so it only needs to be soaked, rather than cooked.
** Make sure your herbs are dried very well with a towel or spin-dryer before mincing. Use the sharpest knife you have, so that you can cut through the herbs cleanly, instead of crushing them. For precision, all of the ingredients in this recipe are measured after mincing, so the 100g parsley is just the leaves themselves, not the weight of the entire bunch (make sure you buy enough).
Thanks for the recipe! This is how I make my tabbouleh too. I realized that there is no need to bother with soaking the bulgur in water. Just mix it with the tomatoes, a bit of lemon and salt while prepping the rest of the salad. Seems easier and tastes better. Also with this method I don’t worry how watery my tomatoes are (though I still make make sure they are somewhat firm). The only downside of this method is that you have to know what ratio you like when it comes to the burghul beforehand. With the water soaking method of you find that you have too much burghul then you just don’t add it all. My husband who is Palestinian seems to heavy a more burghul heavy tabbouleh that still contains more parsley than burghul( like yours). Some Palestinians add cucumber too – which for the southern Lebanese is a big no no. I think it could work if added to the tomatoes and the burghul in the beginning – that way the burghul soaks up the moisture of the cucumbers. I like adding the same amount of mint as you though sometimes I add more. Most of the recipes have minimal mint. I love lots of tomatoes but I noticed that with some ppl it’s more of a garnish
Ah totally—it’s so great when you can find bulgur that’s fine enough that it doesn’t need to be simmered or steeped in water. And I do agree, it’s important not to get carried away and to know how much parsley you have on hand so that you don’t accidentally use way too much bulgur with that method. I’ve noticed that most of my Palestinian friends seem to make their tabbouleh with a really similar ratio to mine—funny you mention your husband’s! “More burghul heavy […] that still contains more parsley than burghul” is the perfect way to describe my ideal tabbouleh haha
thanks for your thoughtful message! Love hearing the way folks make tabbouleh in different areas!
Diced cucumbers mIssing from this recipe. More or less bulgur is a matter of taste, but authentic tabbuleh uses scant bulgur so that the dish retains its fresh salad character rather than stray in the territory of becoming a weighed down grain dish. It’s never meant to be a grain dish. Never.
Definitely didn’t forget the cucumbers, as that’s just not the way my family makes it. But I bet it would be delicious with cucumbers too! Yum! Will have to try that sometime soon.
I’d personally never say that someone else’s tabbouleh isn’t "authentic," because that varies dramatically from region to region and country to country. Sounds like your tabbouleh must be more Lebanese style, with lots and lots of parsley (one of my favorites, to tell you the truth!).
Assyrian tabbouleh, at least the way people in my extended family make it (mostly Iraqi Assyrian tabbouleh), has a bit more grain than Lebanese tabbouleh, although (as you can see from the photos and ingredients list), still quite a lot of veg compared to grain. I agree with you that it’s best not to overdo it on the bulgur, otherwise you lose the heart of the dish.
Although I’m certainly not in the habit of judging someone’s authenticity by how much bulgur they put in their tabbouleh—I know plenty of families from other Middle Eastern cultures that use even more bulgur than I do, and I don’t think their tabbouleh is any less authentic than mine. We all have different ideas of what makes this food our own, and it’s important to always remember that the story is always a bit more complicated than we think.
I would please ask folks to first try tabouleh without cucumber. It’s like dumping it in a glass of water and drinking it. Cucumber is often NOT a part of traditional tabouleh and detracts from the bold flavors.
I grew up with cucumberless tabbouleh as well, and love it that way. Definitely want to try it with cucumber sometime so I can see what all the fuss is about (but suspect I will probably prefer the one I’m most used to and grew up with). But to each their own—there’s definitely more than one right way to enjoy tabbouleh (although there are also definitely a few not quite right ways I’ve seen out there haha).
This post is kind of funny. You act like an authority on tabbouleh yet you add cucumbers. I think the amount of bulgur used in this recipe isn’t too much. What matters is that the salad is mostly parsley and from the picture it looks to be the case
Is there something else you can sub for tomatoes?! Love them, but have very bad reflux with them!
Oh that’s a great question! During the winter, tabbouleh is traditionally made without tomato, and you can totally just leave them out altogether. Make sure you add a bit more parsley so it doesn’t turn out too grain-heavy. And you might even try mincing up one or two of your favorite veggies (just make sure they’re finely minced instead of chopped to have the full tabbouleh effect). I actually have a post about how to adapt tabbouleh to use your favorite ingredients, which might help if you want to get creative with it 🙂
Tabbouleh is my favorite way to eat parsley! Always more parsley than bulghur for me. And like the tomato lemon soaking tip..
Hooray for parsley!! [throws parsley confetti in the air!] It’s my favorite too 🙂