Last Saturday, Yotam Ottolenghi published a recipe for tabbuleh in his Guardian column, the new vegetarian, saying there is a right way and a wrong way to make tabbuleh, which is true. For far too long tabbuleh has been made the wrong way both in Europe and in America. But as much as I like Yotam’s food, his version of tabbuleh still has too much burghul in it. Of course, there are variations. Some families use more burghul than others, but a typical Lebanese tabbuleh (one of the very few national dishes we have) has very little burghul indeed, normally 5% of the amount of tomatoes and less than 10% the amount of parsley. Here is what a typical tabbuleh from the Lebanese mountains looks like. This one was made by my mother when we were shooting the pictures for my Lebanese cookbook, fifteen years ago now which explains why the picture looks a little dated.
But more interesting, at least for me, is white tabbuleh. I first came across the recipe for it when I was researching my Lebanese cookbook. I found it in a book on Lebanese cooking by Ibrahim Mouzannar, who happened to be related to a friend of mine. I was intrigued although not enough to want to find out more, not until a couple of years ago that is, when I wrote Modern Mezze and decided to include Mouzannar’s recipe for white tabbuleh. By then, he had died and no one was able to tell me where his white tabbuleh came from: if it was a regional variation, a seasonal one, or his own creation. I asked his daughter and his brother but neither could help. And to think that I could have easily met him and asked him myself. In any case, it is a great salad and it is called white because the parsley is replaced with cabbage. Otherwise, the remaining ingredients are the same, although the ratios are different.
And the method is fairly similar. The cabbage is thinly shredded, the mint and onion finely chopped and the tomatoes diced except that I prefer to use quartered cherry tomatoes because they look prettier with the cabbage.
The spices are different though. Whereas regular tabbuleh is seasoned with cinnamon and allspice, the white version is seasoned with paprika only. I didn’t like the idea of paprika and decided to use Aleppo pepper instead, which gives the salad a nice kick. The lemon juice and olive oil are the same and here is the final result, a scrumptious and supremely healthy salad that is almost as good a day later.
I am still trying to find out more about this white tabbuleh. So, please write to me or leave a comment if you know anything about it. Until then, here are the recipes for both ‘green’ and white tabbuleh. Each recipe serves 4 to 6, depending on the appetite.
White TabbulÃ© (Tabbuleh Baidah)
100 g fine burghul
1 pointed organic white cabbage, weighing about 500 g, outer damaged leaves discarded, shredded very fine
100 g spring onions, trimmed, thinly sliced
200 g fresh mint, leaves only, chopped medium fine
400 g firm ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered
juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
Â½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1. Rinse the burghul under cold water. Drain and set aside to let it fluff up — stir the burghul with a fork every now and then to separate the grains.
2. Put the cabbage, onion, mint and tomatoes in a large bowl. Add the burghul, lemon juice and oil. Season with the Aleppo pepper and salt to taste. Mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately.
Â© Anissa Helou — from Modern Mezze
30 g fine burghul
600 g firm ripe tomatoes, diced into small cubes
50 g spring onions, trimmed and very thinly sliced
400 g flat-leaf parsley, most of the stalk discarded, very finely chopped
70 g mint, leaves only, very finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (or Lebanese seven-spice mixture)
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
salt to taste
juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
4 gem lettuce, washed and quartered
1. Rinse the burghul in several changes of cold water. Drain well and put in a bowl. Stir it with a fork every now and then to help fluff it up.
2. Put the diced tomatoes in a bowl and set aside while you prepare the onion and herbs. A word of warning: do not chop the herbs with a mezzaluna. This will only bruise them. Instead, use a razor sharp knife and gather as much as you can handle in a bunch and slice them very thin to end up with nice, crisp thin strips.
3. Drain the tomatoes of their juice and put in a large bowl. Add the spring onion and herbs. Sprinkle the burghul all over. Season with the cinnamon, allspice and pepper. Add salt to taste. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately with the quartered gem lettuce.
Â© Anissa Helou — from Modern Mezze or Lebanese Cuisine
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