I’ve been so offended by so many tabboulehs over the years, that I must be the de facto tabbouleh police by now. I know you know what I’m talking about: those grain-heavy salads that offer a fleck of parsley here, a precious leaf of mint there. Is it laziness that has prompted the phenomenon? It is a lot of prep work to make authentic tabbouleh, with all of the herb washing and chopping. The misunderstood tabbouleh is almost as pervasive as the misunderstood, abused?, hummus. I can’t help but wonder how many hummus eaters take home their chilled tub from the grocery store and from then on consider hummus a cold food. No no.
So you can imagine my lack of excitement when I was recently presented, at an event, with a plate of quinoa tabbouleh whose parsley and mint had to be mined for by my fork. I think I even said aloud to my sympathetic dining companions: here we go again.
But what surprise when that salad, that tabbouleh “expression,” tasted of remarkably good lemony flavor. It nodded to my tabbouleh and then welcomed me into my first real enjoyment of a grain-heavy tabbouleh. The quinoa excited me for its protein-rich opportunity (I’m on a bender), and the texture was chewy and satisfying. Once I got past the tabbouleh moniker, it was, I had to admit, delicious.
The meaning is not lost on me that I was eating this exploration on a tabbouleh in the midst of Michigan State’s rather new jewel of a museum of contemporary art, The Broad. Here, as in any contemporary art environment, we are . . . challenged . . . to think in new ways by art whose meaning isn’t always (or ever) as obvious as those classic realists we are so devoted to. As Dan says, it seems to take a special person to appreciate what contemporary art has to offer.
Makes me think of the time Peggy and I took my parents to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and stumbled upon a work of art (?) that was a group of nude manikins lined up in a circle doing things you don’t care to witness with your parents, or perhaps anyone, standing beside you. Good thing my dad had such a great sense of humor.
The quinoa salad wasn’t quite as challenging as that, but for me it was a fine moment of open-mindedness that yielded great fruit. I went home and started in on quinoa tabbouleh for you, and working with hefty curly parsley, I even took it to the food processor for chopping—another big no-no that can result in mushy tabbouleh. But with some care and attention, the method worked great and made the whole process so much shorter and easier (warning: don’t try this with flat-leaf parsley!). The result of the exploration may have veered happily back in the direction of the herb-laden, but in the end, here is a variation on tabbouleh salad even the chief of tabbouleh police can love.
My quinoa tabbouleh was inspired by my plate at the Broad but still stays true to the classic herb-laden salad we know and love. To get after the zingy lemon flavor of their salad, I dress the quinoa on its own, not just in the salad as we typically do with the bulghur. The result: so flavorful! This is a big salad that will make at least 12 servings or more; feel free to scale down, but know that the salad tastes great from the refrigerator all week long.
2 large bunches curly parsley
1/2 cup pearl quinoa
1 cup water
Juice of 2 lemons
Kosher salt, to taste
Big handful mint leaves, finely chopped
2 small cucumbers, cut in small pieces
1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in small pieces
3 scallions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Thoroughly rinse the parsley by dunking it in clean water several times (see this). Lay it out on a clean kitchen towel to dry, blotting it with another dry towel, or running the parsley through a salad spinner in batches. If possible, wash the parsley a day in advance, lay it out to dry or spin it, then store it in the refrigerator in Ziploc bags overnight or until you’re ready to make the salad.
In a small saucepan, bring the cup of water to a boil over high heat. Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer with cold water. Add the quinoa to the boiling water, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and cook the quinoa until it is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Immediately place the quinoa in a large bowl to cool and stir in the lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
While the quinoa cooks, chop the vegetables and work with the parsley last, so that it’s as dry as possible if it was just washed.
To chop the parsley, pinch the curly leaves from the stems and discard the stems. You’ll have about 10 cups of parsley. Finely chop the parsley in batches, or chop it in a food processor in two batches, pulsing just until no large pieces of parsley are visible.
Add the parsley, mint, cucumbers, tomatoes, and scallions to the bowl with the quinoa. Dress the tabbouleh with the juice of the second lemon, the olive oil, garlic powder, and a generous pinch of salt. Combine everything thoroughly, taste, and adjust the seasonings if needed. Serve the tabbouleh immediately, or let it rest for up to several hours or in the refrigerator for several days. The tabbouleh is lovely served on a platter.