In my early days as a restaurant critic I fell in love with Lebanese food. I learnt to cook it at home thanks to Claudia Roden’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food and later through regular visits to (sadly, long-gone) The Phoenicia in Kensington. This was where I’d take sons Zach and Henry for a back-to-school treat or a birthday meal. I’ve also taken advantage of their home delivery service and ordered a whole lamb stuffed with biryani-style rice for a party. With hummous and moutabal, salad and bread, the lamb will easily feed about 30 people, probably more. One essential dish, and one of my first accomplishments, is tabbouleh.
The main ingredient is flat leaf parsley. It is sliced very finely into frilly strips and mixed with diced tomato, a little bulgur and spring onion, the whole seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil and mint. It is refreshing and satisfying and goes with just about everything from grilled sardines to stuffed pitta bread. Traditionally tabbouleh it is eaten scooped up in a curl of lettuce but I often bulk up the quantity of bulgur – the ingredients here can take up to 200g, although you might also wish to increase the quantity of onion – to make more of a meal of tabbouleh. If you do so, make up the quantity of liquid with water or stock so that it is just under double the weight of the bulgur.
Prep: 40 min
75g bulgur (or up to 200g to make more of a meal of it)
6 ripe medium tomatoes, preferably plum
2 spring onions
1 very large bunch of vigorous flat leaf parsley
small bunch of fresh mint
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
curls of crisp lettuce
Boil the kettle. Rinse the bulgur in a sieve in a bowl, rinsing until the water runs clear. Place in a bowl and cover with boiling water from the kettle, cover with a saucer or clingfilm and leave for 10 minutes. Drain. Meanwhile, cover the tomatoes with boiling water, count to 30 and drain. Cut out the core in a pointed plug shape and quarter tomatoes lengthways. Place a sieve over a bowl. Scrape the seeds and juices into the sieve. Finely chop the tomatoes and set aside the dice from one of them. Using the back of a spoon, press the seeds and their juices against the side of the sieve to extract maximum juice. Tip the main quantity of diced tomato together with the juices into a second bowl with the bulgur. Trim and finely chop as opposed to slice the spring onions. Stir the onion into the tomato mixture and season generously with salt and pepper. Leave to allow the tomato juices to finish hydrating the bulgar. Pick the leaves from the parsley and mint stalks. Chop very finely. When the bulgur is ready – it will remain slightly nutty but be tender – whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice and stir into to bulgur along with the parsley and mint. Stir well, taste and adjust the seasonings. Line a bowl with several layers of lettuce, spoon in the tabbouleh and tumble the remaining diced tomato over the top.