My mother loves tabbouleh. And given how healthy it is, it's not such a bad food to love. Except that she made it a lot. As in, after I moved out, I avoided it at all costs.
When I eventually came back around to tabbouleh, I found that if I tweaked the recipe a bit, I liked it a lot more. The classic combination of lemon, parsley and garlic on cracked wheat is good, but it can be so much more. It can be different and inspired. And you don't have to bring the same version to every backyard barbecue between the months of April and October.
I like to start by swapping the traditional cracked bulgur wheat base for a different whole grain, such as farro, spelt, kamut, barley or even brown rice. For this recipe, I used green lentils, which are packed with nutrients, low in fat, and high in fiber and protein. Plus, they have a subtle flavor, perfect for a salad with plenty of other robust flavors.
Next up, the herbs. Traditionally, tabbouleh is made with lots of parsley and some mint. It's pretty easy to switch those for about any fresh, green, leafy herb. Try cilantro or even basil. We kept the parsley but added a bit of oregano and thyme. To round it out, we added red wine vinegar and lemon juice, minced fresh garlic, chopped celery, toasted almonds, chopped olives and red bell pepper.
To finish, you'll want to add a drizzle of really good extra-virgin olive oil. Because it's a simple salad, the quality of the olive oil is important.
Yield: 12 servings
2 cups dry green or French lentils Salt 1 cup chopped fresh parsley 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano 4 cloves garlic, minced 3 stalks celery, diced 1/2 cup sliced Kalamata olives 1 red bell pepper, cored and diced 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 3 tablespoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil Ground black pepper 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lentils and cook until al dente, about 15 minutes.
Use a mesh strainer to drain the lentils, then spread them in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to the refrigerator to cool.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the parsley, thyme, oregano, garlic, celery, olives and red pepper. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil. Drizzle the dressing over the herbs and vegetables, then mix thoroughly. Once the lentils have cooled (they don't need to be chilled, just no longer hot), add to the bowl and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle the almonds over the top.