What is tabouli? It's a classic Mediterranean parsley salad with refreshing mint, sweet tomatoes, and green onions dressed with a simple olive oil lemon dressing. I make tabouli with quinoa instead of traditional bulgur wheat for a twist and to make it gluten-free. It's an easy healthy dish that can be made ahead and served chilled, perfect for summertime. Don't be stumped by the multiple spellings; tabouli, tabouleh, tabbouleh, or taboula. They are all the same sensational dish.
One of my favorite things to make in summer is this easy tabbouleh recipe: a refreshing Lebanese salad with lots of fresh parsley. Lots! Forget about a sprig of parsley as a tossed aside garnish. Here finely chopped parsley is the main ingredient.
Why You'll Like This Recipe
- Many pairing possibilities with chicken, meat, fish and seafood.
- A fresh salad with a handful of ingredients.
- Make it ahead without dressing and dress at serving time.
For another terrific parsley recipe try this mushroom and parsley pasta sauce. It's hearty and delicious, tasting meaty but no meat.
I've taken a little leeway with a traditional tabouli recipe to make it work for my family, using quinoa, adding cucumbers, and using red and green onion for color. Greek feta cheese is a nice add too, but omit it for a vegan tabouli salad.
- Fresh herbs: Fresh parsley, either curly parsley or flat leaf parsley. I use flat leaf parsley because I grow it. Both work. You also need fresh mint leaves.
- Grain: Instead of fine bulgur wheat I use quinoa for a twist and to make it gluten-free. Use either tri-color or white quinoa.
- Cucumbers: Choose either Persian cucumbers or an English cucumber (aka hothouse cucumber). Be sure they are fresh, firm, and a nice deep green color.
- Tomatoes: Roma tomatoes work best as they are meatier but use whatever is best at the market.
- Onion: Red onion adds nice color but green onion is traditional. You can even use both.
- Olive oil: Use a good extra virgin olive oil. Lemon olive oil works too.
- Lemon juice: Fresh squeezed here is best. Lime juice or a combination works too.
- Garlic: Fresh garlic cloves for the best flavor and pungency.
Please see the recipe card for measurements and quantities.
Chef's tip on parsley: What kind of parsley is best for authentic tabbouleh? With a milder flavor and fluffier texture, curly parsley is traditional for tabouli. Flat-leaf parsley has bigger flavor and a softer texture than curly parsley. You can use either.
Substitutions and Variations
- For grain options, use fine wheat bulgur, couscous (wheat), or millet (gluten-free).
- A little cubed or crumbled feta cheese or goat cheese is a nice addition.
- Want a little more texture and protein? Add canned rinsed and drained garbanzo beans.
- Add pine nuts for their buttery crunch, often used in Mediterranean cuisine.
- Diced avocado is terrific too (my lunch today).
Chef's Tip on Herbs: Dry herbs chop much better than wet ones. Wash your herbs ahead of time then spin them dry in a salad spinner. Allow them to dry completely on a kitchen towel on the counter. Chop either by hand with a sharp knife or in a food processor. The trick to chopping the parsley in a food processor is 1) dry herbs 2) drop herbs in while the processor is running through center the feed tube.
You can cook the quinoa and chop all of your veggies a day ahead of time and keep them separated in airtight containers without dressing. Combine and add dressing at the time of serving.
How to Dice Tomatoes Perfectly
If you want nice diced tomatoes, follow my photos. It's good practice and knife work. Why do this? It keeps the tabouli drier and fluffy versus getting soggy from extra tomato juice. Same for the cucumbers.
- First slice a little bit off the top.
- Slice them in half lengthwise, then in half again for quarters
- Holding the knife parallel to the cutting board, slice out the juicy seedy centers.
- Cut each quarter into long thin slices.
- Chop each piece into a nice dice.
Cut the cucumbers the same way. Quarter them, slice out the center seedy part, slice into long pieces, the chop into a nice small dice.
Tabouli is nice at room temperature or chilled. Serve it alone or with grilled meat or chicken, fish or shellfish, like these grilled scallops (with or without the prosciutto). This grilled lemon chicken breast recipe is perfect with tabouli and compliments the lemon flavor.
Save leftover tabouli in an airtight container. It keeps 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
To make the best tabouli wash and dry your herbs well, them chop them fine. Use either a sharp chef's knife and chop by hand or drop dry herbs through the feed tube of a running food processor. Dice tomatoes small and onion fine, either red or green onions. Choose either fine bulgur for a traditional tabouli or use quinoa for a twist and make it gluten-free. Dress with a simple lemon and olive oil vinaigrette just before or at serving.
Tabouli is generally a side dish, but you can make it a complete meal. Add cooked garbanzo beans for a vegan tabouli or top with sliced or diced chicken, fish or shellfish such as grilled shrimp. Adding feta cheese and pine nuts also adds protein if that is your goal.
Yes, quinoa is a terrific substitution for bulgur in tabouli. If you don't eat wheat, quinoa is gluten-free, plus it's light a fluffy
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Tabouli Salad (tabbouleh)
Quinoa Tabouleh Salad
- ¾ cup quinoa white or tri-color blend
- 2 Persian cucumbers diced small sub half a large English seedless
- 2 roma tomatoes chopped small
- 2 large bunches parsley curly or flat leaf
- 1 small bunch mint leaves
- ¼ red onion chopped fine
- 3 green onions or scallions chopped fine
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 large garlic clove very finely chopped or zested with a microplane
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
Rinse and Cook Quinoa
- Wash raw quinoa well under cold running water with a sprayer attachment through a sieve or soak and stir in a bowl of cold water, drain and wash again.
- Cook quinoa. I use a 2 quart pan and 1 ½ cups water. Bring water to a boil, add quinoa. Reduce to a simmer and cover with lid. Turn heat to low. Cook until all water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Turn off heat. Allow to stand for 10 minutes to steam finish. The grains should be light and fluffy with the germ ring unfurled. Spread quinoa on a rimmed baking sheet and allow to cool.
Make the Vinaigrette and Prep the Vegetables
- While quinoa is cooking, make the vinaigrette, then prep the vegetables and herbs. To make the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. This recipe makes extra, in case you need a bit more. For cucumbers, quarter them, slice out the seedy center, cut each quarter into long strips and cut across into fine dice. Do the same with the tomatoes. See photos in the post for help.
Mix and Dress the Salad
- Add the cucumber, tomatoes, onion, and herbs to the cooled quinoa. When ready to serve add a few tablespoons of the dressing and toss gently. Add enough to flavor the salad but don’t soak it in dressing. Serve chilled with extra dressing on the side.
- Crumbled or cubed feta cheese (or goat cheese) is a nice addition.
- Want more color? Use red and yellow tomatoes.
- For a lighter color salad, use all white quinoa.
- Want a little more texture and protein? Add canned rinsed and drained chickpeas (aka garbanzos).
- Add pine nuts for a buttery crunch.