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Friday, June 8, 2012
Tabbouleh with Jordanian Za'atar Tonir Lavash
A classic refreshing Arabic mezze salad of parsley and bulgar wheat!
Over 500 years ago, minced herb salads became very popular in Arabic cuisine. Tabbouleh originated in Syria and Lebanon. This region is one of the best areas for growing wheat for bulgar. It was a natural for Syrians to combine parsley and bulgar wheat to create tabbouleh and it turned out to become one of the greatest salads of all!
Many chefs and diners do not completely understand the importance of parsley. Parsley acts as a mellowing or toning agent in sauces. You might say that parsley is capable of creating a little bit of extra space between the peak or piquant flavors of a recipe.
Parsley is a well known natural breath freshener. Parsley has a high chlorophyl content. Parsley also helps to alleviate digestive problems associated with protein diets. Parsley is a mild anti carcinogen and it fights the growth of tumors.
There are several varieties of parsley and some taste stronger than others. Curly leaf parsley is very mild tasting. Italian parsley is a bit stronger and it is used extensively in Arabic and Persian cuisine. Dark flat leaf Italian parsley is very strong tasting and it is usually cut as a chiffonade for garnishing sauces.
Bulgar is usually made from white wheat in the middle east. Durham wheat bulgar is also popular. Bulgar is a whole grain wheat that has been par boiled and dried. Only a small amount of the bran has been removed. Bulgar can be soaked till it becomes tender, or it can be quickly boiled till it becomes tender. Bulgar has a nice light nutty flavor. High quality bulgar is very uniform in size.
Ground or mashed bulgar is used to make the famous kibbeh meat stuffed with meat recipe. Bulgar can be cooked as a couscous like millet and it can be served as a hot cereal. When added to a salad like tabbouleh, the nutty flavor of the wheat reacts with the parsley flavor in a very earthy natural way. A fresh crisp green leaf flavor with a nutty mature grain seed flavor is a great ancient flavor combination!
My step grandfather was Syrian Lebanese. He used a nice technique to dress tabbouleh. Many recipes say to make the dressing and then add it to the tabbouleh ingredients. The better method is to add each of the dressing ingredients while tossing the tabbouleh minimally. This produces a brighter flavor profile.
Place 1/4 cup of medium size bulgar into a small sauce pot.
Add just enough water to barely cover the bulgar.
Place the pot over low heat.
Gently simmer the bulgar, till it becomes tender and slightly al dente.
Only add enough water to wet the bulgar, as it simmers! The idea is to not dilute or leach out the natural nutty flavor. When the bulgar is close to becoming tender, do not replenish the water. Allow the bulgar to soak up the last of the water in the pot, so no flavor is lost.
Set the bulgar aside to cool.
Finely chop 1 bunch of Italian parsley.
Place the parsley into a mixing bowl.
Add the bulgar.
Add 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint or 5 pinches of dried green mint.
Note: Good bright green colored dried mint is used extensively in Lebanese cuisine. Old dark green or old brown colored dried mint that is commonly seen in grocery stores is not good to use. Mint that is dried in an arid climate seems to retain its flavor quite nicely. I purchased a big bag of Arabic dried mint at the middle eastern market for a nice price. The Arabic market dried mint has the full mint flavor profile and it is mellow tasting, because the chlorophyl had evaporated during the drying process. Sometimes dried herbs are better than fresh!
Add 2 pinches of dried sumac berry spice.
Add 1 tablespoon of finely chopped bermuda onion.
Add 2 tablespoons of small chopped Roma tomato. (Tomato is added for color and flavor only! This is not supposed to be a tomato parsley salad, so do not add too much.)
Add 1/2 of a finely chopped green onion.
Add sea salt.
Add black pepper. (optional)
Add 1 generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice while tossing.
Add just enough virgin olive oil while tossing, to barely coat the ingredients.
Place the tabbouleh into serving bowl or dish.
Garnish with Italian parsley sprigs.
Garnish with sliced Arabic pickled lemon.
Place the tabbouleh on the center of a platter.
Serve with lavash or khubz arabi bread. I served the tabbouleh in the pictures with Jordanian za'atar seasoned tonir lavash.
Jordanian Za'atar Tonir Lavash:
Tonir lavash was the first ancient lavash recipe. Tonir lavash is made with whole grain wheat. Tonir lavash can be purchased at middle eastern markets. To make tonir lavash at home, you will need a hot stone slab in the oven. I will post a few lavash recipes in this blog at a later date.
Za'atar spice mixes vary from family to family and from region to region. I used a nice Egyptian za'atar blend in past recipes and it had a high proportion of cumin in the mixture.
The za'atar blend for this recipe came from Jordan. It has a high proportion of wild green thyme in the mixture and it has a different flavor than the Egyptian za'atar mixture that I used in past recipes.
You cannot make za'atar spice mixture cheaper than purchasing it pre-mixed at a middle eastern market. You can create your own personalized regional za'atar spice mix blends, but za'atar is not cheap to make! Za'atar recipes are not easy to come by, because many za'atar recipes are closely guarded secret ancient family recipes! A good za'atar recipe is worth more than gold. Traditional severe bodily harm or ancient Egyptian curses may be the consequences for those who try to steal a guarded za'atar spice mixture recipe!
There are many basic za'atar recipes on the internet and I posted a description of a za'atar recipe last year. I do suggest trying a few different za'atar spice blends before making your own za'atar spice mix for the first time. It does take some tasting experience to get the za'atar spice mixture flavor profile correct. For a Jordanian za'atar mixture, wild green thyme is required and that spice is hard to find outside of the middle east region. Regular ground thyme is not a substitute for wild thyme!
Cut a whole sheet of freshly made tonir lavash into long triangles.
Place the tonir lavash triangles on a sheet pan.
Brush one side with virgin olive oil.
Sprinkle a generous amount of Jordanian style za'atar spice mixture on the bread.
Use your finger tips to gently rub the spice with the olive oil on the bread, so the spice does not remain dry.
Bake in a 350 degree oven, till the tonir lavash becomes crisp.
Arrange the za'atar tonir lavash triangles on the mezze platter.
Refreshing, refreshing and refreshingly cool! Tabbouleh is one of the tastiest refreshing salads that there is. The Jordanian za'atar spiced tonir lavash tastes very nice with this Syrian lebanese tabbouleh mezze! Yum! ... Shawna