Make Ahead

My Mother's Lebanese Tabbouleh

by:
May 12, 2021
3 Ratings
Photo by Ty Mecham
Author Notes

"My mother's is best" is an adage that fits this recipe perfectly. There are a lot of variations of tabbouleh out there—some mostly made of bulgur, some without cucumbers, some with spice—but I always compare those variations to my mother's recipe, and they never stack up. Her recipe has the perfect parsley to bulgur ratio. It has enough lemon to keep it dressed but not soggy. And it has crispy cucumbers that add a nice contrasting bite. She learned how to make tabbouleh from my grandmother, who never used a written recipe, making it each time to taste just the way she liked, as grandmothers usually do. It's the perfect simple summer salad to keep your menu light and fresh. Enjoy. —cdilaura

Test Kitchen Notes

Who: Cdilaura brings us generations-old Italian and Lebanese recipes.

What: The best possible way to eat a lot parsley.

How: While your bulgur soaks, dice a whole lot of parsley and some mint, too. Toss the grains and herbs with chopped tomato and cucumber, then dress with lemon juice and olive oil.

Why we love it: All too often we buy a whole bunch of parsley, use a couple of leaves, and then let the rest wilt in the fridge. No longer! This tabbouleh uses a load of parsley to make a refreshing and surprisingly simple salad that’s more herb than grain. We love to eat it by itself, with hummus, stuffed into a pita with falafel, or as a bed for grilled fish.

More about tabbouleh: If you read a dozen tabbouleh recipes, you might stumble upon a dozen different ratios of bulgur to parsley. As Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi share in their book Jerusalem, “The Lebanese use the least amount of bulgur, just a tiny quantity of grain dotted sparingly among the parsley. The Palestinians add a little more.” For Cdilaura, author of this recipe, her mother’s golden ratio—2 bunches of parsley to 1 cup of bulgur—is just right. But feel free to increase the greenery or grain-ery according to your own preference. Make sure you use the called-for fine bulgur, not coarser bulgur or cracked wheat, neither of which would cook up in the same way. (Some fun facts from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen: “Bulgur is made from parboiled or steamed wheat kernels/berries that are then dried, partially stripped of their outer bran layer, and coarsely ground. The result of this process is a highly nutritious grain that cooks relatively quickly.”) When it comes to the other ingredients, now is the time to get the good stuff: a tomato that’s so ripe it’s ready to burst; a cucumber that’s equal parts crisp and sweet; and, perhaps most importantly, the most delicious olive oil you can get your paws on. Likewise, resist the temptation to use bottled lemon juice. While that can be a lifesaver with a big pitcher of lemonade, freshly squeezed lemon juice makes all the difference in this simple salad. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
My Mother's Lebanese Tabbouleh
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Serves 6
Ingredients
  • 1 cup fine bulgur (sometimes called #1)
  • 2 bunches curly parsley
  • 12 large mint leaves
  • 1/2 English cucumber
  • 5 scallions
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 2 lemons, juiced (about 6 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pinch salt and pepper, plus more to taste
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Put the bulgur in a bowl, cover it with an inch of just-boiled water, and let it sit at least 20 minutes. (It will double in size.)
  2. Wash and dry the parsley and mint. Remove the stems, finely chop the herbs together, and put them in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Peel and deseed the cucumber half. Slice it lengthwise into thirds, then chop. Chop the scallions and tomatoes and add them to the cucumber, parsley, and mint.
  4. Drain any remaining water out of the bulgur and add it to the vegetables.
  5. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to the salad. Mix well, taste, and adjust the seasoning and olive oil as needed.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Linah Bseiso
    Linah Bseiso
  • Ashley Smith
    Ashley Smith
  • BarnOwlBaker
    BarnOwlBaker
  • Liz Macpherson
    Liz Macpherson
  • June Ribaldi
    June Ribaldi
Some people were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, mine was wooden. With an Italian heritage on one side and a Lebanese heritage on the other, good food was never hard to find. I grew up with Sunday dinners at Grandma’s, big pots of sauce simmering away on the stove all day and hand cut pasta drying on the rack in the basement. The perfume of lemon, garlic, garden grown herbs and other fresh ingredients always scented our family kitchens. So it is no surprise that my love for fresh, hand-prepared food is something I now love to share with new and old friends. Because of that, I put on my apron, sharpened my knives and started a blog and NYC supper club called [email protected] to continue spreading the good food love.

60 Reviews

Maureen R. June 17, 2020
Love this simple recipe, the essence of summer. At the risk of creating a riot, I've substituted chopped arugula for the parsley. Yes, I know it's not traditional, but it is delicious. Bon appetit!
 
Maureen R. June 17, 2020
Love this simple recipe, the essence of summer. At the risk of creating a riot, I've substituted chopped arugula for the parsley. Yes, I know it's not traditional, but it is delicious. Bon appetit!
 
Michele August 19, 2018
I love tabbouleh. this is the way I enjoy it. since I don’t like the tomatoes when they get mushy I just thought of a variation instead of tomatoes add a bit of chopped Greek olives and feta. And now I have a new dish.
 
Linah B. September 26, 2017
You can make a healthier version (gluten free) if you replace the bulgur with quinoa. Boil Quinoa, let it cool completely and put in the taboule instead of the bulgur.
 
Connie T. September 26, 2017
Some would argue (including me) that gluten-free is not necessarily healthier. I want and need my gluten for valuable fiber and nutrients. I do love quinoa too, but please don't make those of us who eat gluten sound like a bunch of poor eaters!
 
Lisa C. June 19, 2020
How much cooked quinoa did you use in substitution for the bulgur? I also eat GF, and have and abundance of parsley in my garden 😀.
 
Margaret August 13, 2017
I love the freshness of this dish! I have no bulgur and am wondering whether orzo (a very small pasta) will work well.
 
ExPat August 13, 2017
I vary the salad with many ingredients and love it. Hard boiled eggs, bacon bits, Japanese cucumber, pine nuts, tuna, Feta, plain Greek yogurt, other chopped greens. Watching the combo of soft and crunchy and keeping
# of ingredients to a minimum seems best. Not traditional, but flattering variations. Orzo sounds great.
 
Linah B. September 26, 2017
you can use Quinoa instead.
 
Hollis R. June 7, 2019
i'll use the bulgur since i have no problem with gluten. Linah B., not all of us are gluten-challenged. i'm allergic to MSG -- or, at least, i used to be; but i now use Kewpie mayonnaise (which has MSG as an essential ingredient) and have no bad MSG reaction at all. i guess my biochemistry adjusted. or something. but, boy, am i glad!
 
Ashley S. August 9, 2017
Can anybody please tell me if this is better the second day or on the day it is made. I'm planning to bring this to a potluck this weekend, and just planning it out. Thank you!
 
lebanese G. August 10, 2017
The tastiest way to eat it is immediately...
Sahtein means bon appetite in Lebanese language 😊
 
lebanese G. August 10, 2017
The tastiest way to eat it is immediately...
"Sahtein" means bon appetite in Lebanese language 😊
 
Angel P. April 14, 2019
I actually preferred it later because the bulgur wheat wasn't soft enough at first (guess I got the not fine kind). The next day it was perfect and delicious! Maybe that's a trick to having it good the next day, to not soak them long enough.
 
Seerah July 25, 2017
Great recipe! israel (and usa) has no cuisine other than that of the native people. No culture other than white supremacy. All that they claim was taken from the indigenous peoples. If you others are uncomfortable with politics, but don't come to our table to eat culture our soul food and our pride if you ain't on the side of anti imperialism.
 
Iz C. March 7, 2018
You are a hater, no one likes a hater.
 
Hollis R. June 7, 2019
i'm quite comfortable with both food AND politics. Seerah ... isn't. culinary cultural appropriation is, IMO, a Good Thing, not something to be reviled. international fusion cuisine is my passion, and i don't let political divisiveness get in the way of great food combinations. nor should anyone else. it's just not kosher.
 
AliceInWanderland July 5, 2017
After enjoying it many times at the Bashera home in Houston, I asked the cook how to make it. Again, with no measurements, just ingredients, her answer was simple: a lot of fresh minced curly parsley, a little soaked bulghur (not too much), juicy fresh chopped tomatoes, minced onion, lemon juice, and oil. No garlic. No mint. And NO cucumbers.
 
ExPat July 5, 2017
I also like mushrooms and pine nuts for crunch (tuna, chick peas not as much). You don't have to call it Tabouleh, but it was the inspiration and start point.
 
Hollis R. June 7, 2019
it sounds to me as though the Bashera cook doesn't like garlic, mint, or cucumbers. i like all those things. in fact, my tabbouleh uses cilantro instead of parsley -- because that's what i have in my fridge right now.

OTOH, i don't care for Cajun/Creole cuisine because i don't like sassafras powder and my body doesn't like green bell pepper. but that doesn't stop me from making Cajun/Creole recipes WITHOUT those ingredients; there are plenty of adequate subs, and the food still tastes great. taste is subjective, and no recipe is carved in stone. relax with the prohibitions, AliceinWanderland -- wander more, prohibit less. always be flexible.
 
ExPat July 5, 2017
I use something similar as a base but also salt chopped tomatoes to let them drain and add protein items like boiled egg, tuna, shrimp for a more substantial meal. After chopping all items, they go into food processor. As much as I love it, removing parsley stems is tedious and backbreaking. I tried with store-chopped kale instead (which I steam/chop). Also threw in some candied pecans, paprika, Tabasco. I miss the parsley, but it's good.
 
Hollis R. June 7, 2019
using different ingredients -- for WHATEVER reason -- makes the world go 'round, ExPat. i don't have parsley -- the store was out! -- so i'm using cilantro instead. it'll be good, just different good. also, you can use the stems -- both cilantro AND parsley; don't avoid the stems because some recipe says so; there's loads of flavor -- and crunch -- in those stems.
 
BarnOwlBaker July 4, 2017
This is a delicious recipe! Light and tasty. The only change I made was to use only 1/4 cup of olive oil, which worked well for us. Will make again and again....thanks!
 
ellen February 27, 2017
I'm eating this right now & it is absolutely delicious! (I doubled the lemon juice & used the entire bunch of mint.) It is super light & fresh- thanks for a great recipe! 😍
 
Liz M. January 22, 2017
Does the water have to be boiling or can it be room temperature water?
 
Debbie August 23, 2016
I just made this today. Very good. As nice as our local Lebanese restaurants. I used drier pickling cucumber in mine and it's a pleasant addition.
 
Amanda P. March 15, 2016
Exactly how I make it, as I learned from my Lebanese grandnother! Yum!!
 
June R. September 23, 2015
Thank you
 
Connie T. February 25, 2015
Here in northern Maine we have a significant population of Lebanese folks. I learned from them. You left off the cinnamon, 3/4 tsp.. Absolutely vital to a proper tabbouleh.
 
Amanda P. March 15, 2016
No, no!! Cinnamon does not belong in tabouleh at all. Wro,g flavor! Needs to be fresh w lemon and parsley, not warm w cinnamon!
 
Tamara April 27, 2018
Cinnamon and white pepper...
 
NanJ May 15, 2018
My Lebanese neighbor's recipe has allspice. It absolutely makes tabbouleh special. Any other tabbouleh tastes flat to me. Their family recipe also does not have cucumber and uses a much less bulger for 2 bunches of parsley. It should be mostly green with flecks of white and not too much tomato.
 
Hollis R. June 7, 2019
this comment and the replies thereto demonstrate the variety of ways to make tabbouleh. i'm sure there are other ways, as well. just find one that works FOR YOU, but don't declare your way to be THE way.
 
V.E.D. February 21, 2015
Cucumbers are not a traditional part of the recipe, but my mother added them for a little extra crunch. She always used curly parsley...it just holds up better, but feel free to make any changes you wish.
 
chiara S. January 7, 2015
I use curly parsley and all spice, no cucumber
 
Alex T. November 28, 2014
It sounds very yummy, but in Lebanon they don't cucumber in the Tabbouleh at all, and they do use flat leaf parsley.
 
kristina November 24, 2014
my husband is Lebanese and we have refined our recipe over the years, it is very similar to this except never heard of cucumbers being added so will try that next time. we use much less bulghur, not even half a cup and have found that roma tomatoes work best. we sometimes personalize by adding a little sumac.
 
Hollis R. June 7, 2019
sumac sounds good, kristina. i might just add some, or use some za'atar, or i might just stick to the recipe as written. knowing me, i'll be adding za'atar. but it hadn't occurred to me until i read your comment. so, thanks, kristina, for a great suggestion!