You say tabbouleh, I say tabouli, let's call the whole thing off. Okay, let's not, even if you spell it "taboo-li" because you've eaten bad versions of it at too many potlucks. I know. Some potluck dishes just seem to have gotten up on the wrong side of the vegetarian cookbook, you know? Gritty hummus, bland pasta salad, watery tabouli. Part of the problem is that grain recipes don't always multiply all that successfully. When Michael and I lived in a vegetarian coop (cue the violins of nostalgia) 50 or 60 years ago I think it was now, we ate terrible rice at almost every meal. And the terribleness was not even predictable: sometimes the rice was like grainy school glue, sometimes like fine shards of pottery, and sometimes so enthusiastically burnt you expected to see flames leaping out of your bowl of stir fry. Rice for thirty people turned out to involve some secret algorithm of grain and water that nobody was quite able to crack.
But here is a fresh and lovely wheat-based salad recipe that promises to be neither bland nor watery. Plus, there is no cooking involved--making it a perfect recipe for the dog days. Bulgur is a precooked, dried wheat that you will surely be able to find in the bulk area of a natural foods store, and in the natural foods area of a bulk store. I mean a supermarket. If you can't find it, you might be able to find a box of "Tabouli Mix" and you can use that, just toss any little packets that came in the box, and scale back the recipe by a third, since there will likely be a cup of bulgur in there. Honestly, unless you're feeding a crowd, you may want to scale back the recipe by a third anyways, as bulgur has a tendency to grow and grow, kind of like the pasta pot in Strega Nona, if that's a kids' book you know. Scaling back should be easy. That's one cup of what, one cup of boiling water, and, er, 2/9ths of a cup of oil and lemon juice! I assume that's marked out on your measuring cup.
You may be surprised or not to hear that authentic Lebanese or Syrian tabouli is more parsley than wheat, and feel free to make it that way and then post a Youtube film of your kids eating it and become a star! No, I'm kidding--it's delicious like that, but this way makes a more familiar type of dish that is likely to go down easier. We swap in plumped dried cherries for the traditional chopped tomatoes because a) Ben hates tomatoes, b) tomatoes get creepy in the leftovers, and c) cherries are a magic food that convinces kids that they're going to like something. We buy dried cherries from Trader Joe's, and they're excellent. You could of course use chopped tomatoes, or halved cherry tomatoes, or even grapes or diced plums: we have used all of these things at various moments. Let me know if you add anything else that works really well: fresh corn is a great addition, and I bet other veggies would be too. Now get yourself to that potluck! The people need good tabouli.
Minted Cherry Tabouli
Total time: 25 minutes
Scallions are a traditional addition that I omit for the obvious reasons. Sigh.
Heaping 1/2 cup dried cherries, plus hot water to cover
1 1/2 cups bulgur wheat
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 large English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced (or an equivalent amount of smaller cukes)
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 clove of garlic, peeled and pressed through a garlic press
1 bunch of parley, to make 1 heaping cup finely chopped (or more!)
1/4 cup finely chopped mint (if I don't have fresh mint, I use a teaspoon of dried mint from a peppermint tea bag)
In a small bowl, pour hot tap water of the cherries to cover and let them plump while you make everything else. In a large bowl, pour the boiling water over the wheat and cover (I use a large pot lid) while you prepare the cukes and herbs, and the dressing, which you will make by whisking together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and garlic. There. Wasn't that easy?
If your diced cukes taste bitter or seem especially watery, sprinkle them with salt and leave them to drain in a colander while your prepare the rest of the ingredients, then give them a quick rinse and rub them dry with a clean dish towel; if they taste sweet and delicious, don't bother.
Now return to your wheat, which should, when you fluff it with a fork, look puffy and dry-ish; it should be chewable but still chewy. If it's sitting in water, drain it well and cover it again for a few minutes to let it sort itself out. Stir in the dressing, then stir in the herbs, then stir in the cukes and the drained cherries. If you can, let it sit, covered at room temperature, for an hour or so to let the flavors blend. Taste it before serving and add more salt or lemon juice if the flavor needs a boost; it will most likely need salt. Serve at room temperature or chilled.