Ever since I became familiar with the concept of “everything but the burden” at some indeterminate point in college, I’ve tried my best to be sensitive regarding matters of cultural appropriation. In recognition of the fact that as a white guy, most aspects of American society work towards conditioning me to believe I am master of all I survey, I have felt it behooves me to recognize when my thinking displays elements of viewing other cultures as a grab bag, from which I can choose whatever behaviors, attitudes, and mores I wish, and to shut it down as soon as possible. That said, I have no idea how concerned about appropriation I should be when it comes to food, or if I should be all that bothered at all, in the first place.
As is the norm in this space, I am not here to provide any answers, whether actual or potential, to this question. I have no idea, and I’m inclined to believe it’s not my question to answer in the first place. This is merely my damaged-ass way of apologizing in advance for using this platform to provide my recipe for tabouli, a Middle Eastern salad-y dish that I didn’t even know existed until early this decade. Tabouli is simple, light, relatively healthy, and super-easy to make, and is therefore the perfect thing to whip together on weeknights and/or to bring to the next event you’re attending that requires you bring food of some kind.
First, you will need to get your ingredients together. You will need tomatoes, cucumber, lemon, parsley, fresh mint leaves, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a grain known as bulgur wheat. Bulgur wheat is the main ingredient in tabouli, and while you can probably find it at your preferred grocery store, just where in that store you’re going to find it may vary. Some places will keep it in the international aisle, some will have it next to the instant rice/grits/polenta/etc., and still others will have it in the furthest flung wing of the store, lying ignored and unspoken of among a surfeit of other obscure-ish (at least to Americans) varieties of grain. (Shout-out to the Mariano’s on Ashland.) In the event that you can’t find any bulgur whatsoever, quinoa will work as well.
Once you’ve assembled everything, begin by cooking your bulgur. If you got your bulgur in a box with cooking instructions, follow those, otherwise, drop a cup of bulgur and two cups of cold water into a pot, add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to low heat. After 14 or 15 minutes, you’ll have cooked bulgur. Since we are now given a large chunk of inactive cooking time, now’s as good an opportunity to prep everything else. First, dice up two Roma tomatoes and about half to two-thirds of a large cucumber. This doesn’t have to be a perfectly fine dice. The ideal size here is ‘small cube’, however, if your tomatoes and cucumber are a degree or two large than that, it’s not going to ruin anything.
Next, grab your parsley and begin pulling the leaves off the stems. We need a lot of parsley here. Pull some leaves off, then keep pulling leaves off, then continue to keep pulling leaves off indefinitely, until you are completely sick and fucking tired of pulling parsley leaves off of parsley stems. Then, pull a few more leaves off, for good measure. Once this is done, mince the ever-loving shit out of the parsley, then do the same with the mint leaves. Squeeze half a lemon’s worth of juice into a ramekin or small bowl, then set it aside.
Once the 14 to 15 minutes are up, check on the bulgur. If it has expanded significantly and some of the grains have split open, it’s done. If you’re not sure, give it a taste. If it’s firm but chewy, it’s done. If it can be in any way rightfully be described as ‘crunchy’, it’s not there yet. Put the lid back on and check on it again in another minute or two. Either way, once your bulgur is done cooking, remove from heat, and let it cool (with the cover off, so as to accelerate the cooling process) to at least room temperature.
Once the bulgur has cooled down, dump it into a large bowl. Add your chopped herbs and diced veggies next, followed by a few glugs of olive oil and the lemon juice. Sprinkle a decent but thoroughly reasonable amount of kosher salt on top, and crack some pepper on there, too, then stir everything together until the herbs and veggies are well distributed. Technically, this is now tabouli, however we’re not done just yet. Cover the bowl, preferably with a lid if the bowl in question has one, otherwise with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour, so that the flavors can cohere.
Once this is done your tabouli is ready. It’s sneaky tasty, isn’t it? It’s textually varied and herbaceous and just ever-so-slightly lemony, and altogether dang good. And you only had to do like, what, three things to bring this together? Look at you. You’ve performed a miracle of science.