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Gluten-Free Paleo Tabbouleh
In my imagination, if summer had a taste, it would be fresh lemon.
In reality, my summer — suffering in the stifling heat of central Texas — often tastes more like the bitter, white pith just below the skin of a sunshine-yellow lemon. But imagination is a beautiful thing, so I state again: If summer had a taste, it would be fresh lemon.
Which is why I recently had a hankering for homemade tabbouleh.
The thing that differentiates tabbouleh from something like Turkish Chopped Salad is the addition of bulgur wheat, or as it was known in my house, “cracked wheat.” I was going to wax poetic about the toastiness of the bulgur, but instead, I’m going to let this quote from my recently acquired copy of Middle Eastern Cookery (part of the Time-Life Foods of the World series) do it for me:
To begin, there was tabbouleh, a salad of chopped tomatoes, green and white onions, radishes, parsley, and mint. Now tabbouleh is a fairly conventional salad until a final unforgettable ingredient is added: nutty-flavored burghul, which is wheat boiled to the point of splitting, parched in the sun, and cracked or ground to various degrees of fineness. In our salad the grains were medium in size, and because they had been soaked beforehand, delightfully chewy in texture.
So, yeah. Bulgur wheat. Nutty, chewy, delicious, but not exactly on my approved food list these days. So that was the first hurdle: find a replacement for the cracked wheat.
Turns out, that wasn’t the only challenge with this recipe. There was the ratio of lemon juice to olive oil to consider, along with the amount of bulgur to include, radishes or no radishes, and to spice or not to spice. I consulted a handful of my favorite resources to see how they handled their recipes:
David Lebovitz has a good-looking tabbouleh recipe in a guest post by Anissa Helou. She introduced me to the idea of Lebanese Seven-Spice Blend, of going easy on the bulgur, of the importance of draining the tomatoes.
Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun — I disregarded this recipe outright because it includes no mint and uses basil instead. I’m sure it’s tasty because her recipes are quite good, but I just cannot. with. basil. in. tabbouleh.
Natural Food Feasts From the Eastern World: China, Japan, India, Indonesia, and the Middle East by Sigrid Shepard — This cookbook is a complete delight, and I acquired my copy illicitly, which makes me love it even more. (That story deserves its own post later this summer.) Anyway, I like the proportions of this recipe — not too much oil in relation to the lemon juice and a good balance between mint and parsley.
The Best International Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated — This monster of a book is great, of course, because everything from Cook’s Illustrated is great. My favorite thing about their recipe was the suggestion to serve the tabbouleh with tiny romaine leaves for scooping. I will definitely do that next time. This time, I ate my tabbouleh out of the Sitti bowl with a giant soup spoon. Like an animal. I’m pretty sure I smacked my lips and wiped them with the back of my hand. I was alone in the kitchen. No one could see me. It was glorious.
Pita The Great by Virginia T. Habeeb — This cookbook is a sentimental favorite, a hold-over from the days when I made homemade pita bread. It’s so friendly and so ’80s — it was published the year I graduated from high school! I bought it during my second year of college — when I had my own apartment for the first time — and I used it to recreate some of my Lebanese favorites in my “own place” in Syracuse, New York.
After all that research, I was hungry for a Lebanese feast, and I still had to deal with the bulgur issue. Remembering that grated cauliflower worked like a charm as a stand in for bulgur in my kibbeh sinayee recipe, I wondered what would happen if I tried cauliflower in the tabbouleh. Then: inspiration! I wonder what would happen if I toasted the cauliflower before adding it to the tabbouleh…
It totally worked!
The toasted cauliflower adds a nutty, chewiness to the salad and bonus! it also adds more vegetables. The proportion of “bulgur” to veggies is low, which is a more traditional way to make tabbouleh. The version sold in delis is usually mostly wheat with a few vegetables as garnish, but true tabbouleh is really parsley salad, so my recipe is green, green, green.
I sampled versions of my tabbouleh with and without the Lebanese Seven-Spice blend recommended by Anissa Helou; I definitely preferred the spiced version, but the difference is subtle. Although the spice blend itself includes bold flavors, the small amount in this recipe provides just a hint of something interesting underneath the grassy parsley and bright lemon. It’s worth the extra step to make the Seven-Spice and add it; trust me! And speaking of lemon: I added some lemon zest to make the salad zing. I also decided against radishes because, to me, they really taste like dirt and muddied the flavors too much.
Oh! I also opted to use curly parsley because that’s what my mom and dad always used in our kitchen when I was a kid. I know snooty chefs prefer flat-leaf and most of the time, I agree with them. But the curly parsley is so much friendlier and lighter. Let’s face it: it’s cute. Go curly!
So, whew! My recipe was finally done. This version, my version, is slightly tart with a nice olive oil slinkiness. To me, this tabbouleh tastes like the best of summer: bright, light, fresh, and refreshing.
Serves 6-8 | Prep 30 min. (So much herb plucking and veggie chopping!) | Whole30 compliant
1 head raw cauliflower
1/2 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
2 seedless cucumbers
4 ripe tomatoes
4 cups curly parsley leaves (about 2 bunches)
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon Lebanese seven-spice blend (optional – recipe here)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cover a two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a food processor to “rice” the cauliflower: Break the cauliflower into florets, removing the stems. Place the florets in the food processor bowl and pulse until the cauliflower looks like rice. This takes about 10 to 15 one-second pulses. You may need to do this in two batches to avoid overcrowding. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower rice with the melted coconut oil, then divide the cauliflower between the baking sheets. Spread it into a single layer so it can toast in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes or so, checking at 15 to make sure it’s getting golden but not burning. (Mine got pretty dark, and it retained a nice bite, even after being tossed with the dressing.)
Cut the cucumber and tomatoes into 1/4-inch dice, place in a colander, sprinkle generously with salt, and let the vegetables “sweat” out their excess moisture while the cauliflower is in the oven.
Wash the parsley then either pat dry (with paper towels or a clean dish towel) or spin in a salad spinner. Repeat with the mint. When the herbs are clean and dry, use a sharp knife — not the food processor — to finely chop them. I think it’s nice when you can recognize the leaf for what it is in tabbouleh, so I don’t mince the herbs as fine for this salad as I do for Turkish Chopped Salad. Place the herbs in a large mixing bowl.
Trim the scallions and slice them very, very thin so they’re almost shaved. Add to the parsley.
When the cauliflower is toasted, remove from the oven and allow to cool. While it’s cooling, drain the cucumbers and tomatoes of the released liquid, then add the vegetables to the parsley. Toss with a rubber scraper to combine.
In a small bowl, use a fork to mix the lemon juice, salt, pepper, lemon zest, and Lebanese seven-spice blend. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while you continue to mix with the fork. Then pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss gently, but with purpose, until all the ingredients are coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour so the flavors can blend.
NOTE: As I admitted above, I ate this aggressively as soon as it was done — but on day two, it tasted even better. Day three, it was still good. After that, it begins to look a little sad, so if you can’t eat a full batch in 2-3 days, cut the recipe in half.
More International Summer Salads
Turkish Chopped Salad
Citrusy Carrot & Radish Salad
Cold Sesame Cucumber Noodles
Tropical Chopped Salad
Vietnamese Chicken Salad
Still hungry? Try these
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Oh I can’t wait to eat the hell out of this one!
I am so going to make this! Sounds so fresh and summery. How creative of you to roast the cauliflower “grains” I love Tabboulleh but can’t have the wheat. I am also looking forward to blending the Lebanese 7-Spice mixture. Thanks so much for sharing!
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I’ve been searching for something like this!! I also now want to make and eat a Lebanese feast!
You had me at “radishes…really taste like dirt.”
RIGHT?! Sorry, radishes, but you’re not so tasty.
Try pickling them in umboshi vinegar.
I love tabbouleh and can’t wait to try this recipe! Recently I made one with quinoa for a gluten-free version of the traditional recipe. Not strictly paleo I know, but I decided it was an allowable treat and it really was delicious. Your grain-free recipe will probably end up my new favorite though, based on how great all your recipes usually turn out! 🙂
Oh how I have missed you tabbouleh! Thank you for creating this recipe! You are the total BOMB. Making this for the 4th! (And I’m with ya on the basil…can’t imagine tabbouleh without it)
This looks delicious, I’ll try it!
I’m part Syrian, so a lot of middle eastern foods are on my F-off list (falafel, baklave, hummus, pita bread, chickpeas, and yes, cracked wheat). I don’t indulge in them often but really enjoy when I do. This will be a nice alternative, thanks!
Yay I LOVE tabbouleh! I’ve made a version where instead of the bulgur wheat I’ve minced sliced almonds which I enjoy but using roasted cauliflower is intriguing, not to mention more nutritious- thanks for posting!
Is there anything that cauliflower is not good for? Amazing versatile under appreciated cauliflower!
This looks droolicious — can’t wait to try it! I’m going to share it with my sister, too, since she has been low carbing it a bit lately and adores tabbouleh.
I made something similar a while back, but I can’t wait to try out your measurements on lemon juice, olive oil and spices. You are always right on. We were out of tomatoes that day, so I actually used strawberries instead, and it was strangely delicious. Weird, I know. When you have good ingredients, it is hard to go wrong. I am living by Well-Fed right now. Thank you!!!!
Thanks so much for this recipe. My husband is originally from Morocco and I have been looking for a paleo version of this dishes for months!!
Mel, tabbouleh is one of my most missed non paleo dishes (hummus on pita is up there, too.). I had pretty much given up on ever having tabbouleh again (I sub your baba guanoush for hummus and have been very happy.). I should have just asked–you always come through! I cannot wait to try this, so I won’t. It’s on my plan for the 4th.
I’m so glad you guys are excited about this recipe. Definitely let me know how you like it so I can continue to tweak the dressing, etc.
The Lebanese Seven-Spice is turning out to be a great addition to my spice cabinet. It’s SO good on sweet potatoes with a little garlic and salt. Try it!
OHHH YEAH!!! I adore this stuff! Can’t wiat to do this one.
My amazing daughter hits another home run.
I think I should start calling you “Sitti”!
yum yum yum.. nuff said
Finally, something that I can use with all that extra parsley I have in the frig. I’m new to this cooking thing (since now my new restricted diet makes it so I have to fend for myself more often than join the group these days). So, I’ve been looking at these recipes that call for a sprinkle of parsley, the huge bunch I hand in my hands, and was left scratching my head as to how I was ever going to use it all. Thanks for opening my eyes to the possibility of parsely as a main ingredient rather than just garnish.
I really like the taste of parsley, so I make a lot of parsley-based salads. you might want to try this one, too. Don’t be put off by the onions; it’s actually pretty mellow:
I’m trying to figure out what to pack for a beach day this weekend and this is definitely going on the list. Can’t wait to try it!
Just so you know, this dish was the talk of the party, and there were plenty of non-paleos chomping away. The cauliflower fooled everyone, you are brilliant!
I tried this recipe but instead of the cauliflower, I used hemp hearts and it was absolutely delicious!
Hemp hearts??? what’s this? where do i find it?
Hemp hearts: http://amzn.to/1Sj7iLP
I made the tabbouleh today and it is fantastic! I did make the Lebanese seven spice mix and added it to the tabbouleh. It definitely adds a whole new flavor layer to it.
I toasted my cauliflower at 400 degrees but it started burning after 10 minutes. Lowered the temp down to 375 for about 5 more minutes and was able to use just about the whole riced head. It must be the oven difference.
The tabbouleh looks like the “real” stuff but tastes even better.
Thanks for another awesome recipe!
Sweet! I’m glad you liked it. I’ve been using the 7-Spice powder a lot. It’s my new favorite. Try it on cooked sweet potatoes. YUMMY!
Also really nice on ground beef or lamb.
I made the Tabbouleh for dinner last night and it was a huge hit! I had to keep my cauliflower in the oven longer than you suggested however. Cauliflower has a lot of moisture in it so at first it “steamed” off then finally started to brown. I am wondering if I need to “rice” it a bit more than I did. It also shrunk up a lot so I had to make the other half of the cauliflower for just half a recipe of the other ingredients. I did make a full dressing recipe and I’m so glad I did because I can use the leftover for a wonderful dressing! Thanks Mel for sharing!
Oh Yum!!! I was craving Tabbouleh the other day–loved it for yummy summer lunches with hummus–and now I can-with zucchini hummus or Baba Ghanoush! Yummm!
OMG. I MISS THIS DISH. And I made it this week and it freaking ROCKS THE HOUSE! YOU ROCK THE HOUSE! Thank you!!! I skipped the spices and the mint, but did everything else and it was PERFECT.
Hooray! Glad you enjoyed it!
I’ve been making it the traditional way but just realized as an O positive blood, I shouldn’t be eating bulgur. I cant wait to try it this way (plus with adding cucumbers)! I will soon be keeping Passover with my family and this will be one of our dishes! I’m so siked!!
I’m really happy with how this recipe came out — it doesn’t feel like a compromise at all. Hope you like it!
HI! I am excited about this recipe! I clicked on the link for the Lebanese seven-spice blend and was taken to a website but I couldn’t find the recipe
I searched but to no avail…..can you help? Thank you!
Try this: http://www.food.com/recipe/lebanese-7-spice-blend-440522
My 7-spice blend recipe is in Well Fed 2, so that’s coming soon!
Dude….I am so excited by Well Fed 2…..October seems a mighty long way away! Thanks for the link! 🙂
Couldn’t one replace the cauliflower “rice” with toasted sesame seeds? Seems easier and would give the same nutty flavour as the bulgar?
The issue with sesame seeds is that they impact the healthfulness of the recipe. Sesame seeds, like all seeds, are fairly high in Omega-6 fatty acids. I’d prefer to do the little bit of extra work for the toasted cauliflower because it adds more vegetables to the salad AND avoids the Omega-6 issue.
OK, OK, I’m doing it the hard way… And I’ve also made the Lebanese 7-spice AND the Italian Pork Roast (in the slow cooker) from Well Fed 2 🙂
I still reserve the right to make and eat baba ganoush though…
YAY! It will be worth it… trust me.
Also, have you tried my Baba Ghanoush recipe?
Of course I have Mel, I’ve made it about ten times over the last year. In fact I’ve made about 40 of the recipes in Well Fed 1 and today was my first two from Well Fed 2.
The pork came out exactly as described, amazing, now a new use for my slow cooker.
My favourite cookery books of all time, indispensable 🙂
Well aren’t you just the nicest commenter ever?! YAY!
I’m so glad you like the new recipes and that the original Well Fed has been keeping you company. Happy new year!
This tabbouleh was absolutely delicious! I think it actually takes a lot better without the wheat. My fiance loved it as well and said that it was the best version he’d ever had. (I took an informal poll, and it seems that he and others don’t really like the wheat either.)
I also picked up Well Fed 2. I LOVE the flavors, the variety of recipes, and the options for tweaking the recipes. I can tell that this is going to become one of my cooking bibles. Well done!
I’m so glad you like this recipe — and love that you prefer it to the wheat version. YAY!
Thank you for buying Well Fed 2. Happy cooking!
Just got your second book and made this tonight. I used orange cauliflower because I thought it might be pretty and it was. This is hands down the best tabbouleh I’ve had. The cauliflower has a great taste and texture and the flavors are light and refreshing but also amazingly complex.
I bet that was beautiful! I’m so glad you like this recipe — thanks for letting me know!
This looks great. I never realized that wheat was in tabbouleh until recently. I”ll give this a try soon.
Amazing!! I cook at a retreat centre, and get a lot of food restricted participants. I also love to eat clean, and will add this to my personal recipe collection. AND, I play derby in Ontario, Canada, and was recently at the library and was browsing through your derby book. Do you still play?? Thanks for being part of the derby renaissance! What a great sport.
YAY for Derby! I don’t play anymore — I was on a team and our Marketing Director for 5 years. I loved it, but that as plenty 😉
Melissa, you never disappoint! I just made this and it’s delicious! Don’t even miss the bulgar. It’s chilling in the fridge right now and I’ll be having some for lunch!
So glad you like it! Happy summer 🙂
Hi. I made this recipie, and it turned out good! I added the riced toasted cauliflower, but I didn’t taste any texture. So I added toasted almonds on top and it was great. My husband thought it had too much lemon juice, but we would defiantly make it again. I also made the spice blend, and it was so subtle, it just added a nice addition of flavor.
I made this, and it turned out so good I made it again 2 days later. I also made the spice blend, but with a couple substitutions as I didn’t have everything. I omitted the cauliflower as I read from other reviews it didn’t add much. I would definitely encourage people to try out the recipe.
I’m a bit late to the tabouli excitement over here, but just read through this recipe because of this week’s cook up! Very excited about both the tabouli AND the fact that Mel referenced Syracuse (hometown pride, what can I say!)
The only thing I would say is that my family recipe (a palestinian recipe) never called for any spices, but if you were to add a bit of spice in, sumac would be delicious all on it’s own. It’s citrusy and warm and might just be the perfect addition! Also, I have cousins in Nazareth who regularly make tabouli without any bulgar, and no one seems to mind. So perhaps the cauliflower is superfluous (although it does add nice texture!)
Thanks for this! It’s great to see my favorite salad getting some love.
My dad makes his tabbouleh without spices, too. I love it ALL ways: with and without spices, with and without the cauliflower. It’s hard to go wrong with parsley and lemon.
Do you think the cauliflower would keep well if I toasted it the day before?
Should be just fine!
AMAZING!!!! My first attempt at making my own version of Whole30 tabbouleh was an epic fail… I have made tabbouleh many times in the past for my hubby, but my version was almost inedible! THANK YOU for making this recipe and for introducing me to the 7 spice blend. I’m using this dressing on EVERYTHING- including fattoush! I can’t wait to try the kibbe!! Thanks again for all you do to bring yummy food into my home!!!
Hooray! I’m glad you like this recipe! And yes, 7-spice blend is pretty awesome. Mmmmm… fattoush. Happy cooking!