Why three times? How to prep parsley for tabbouleh.

My brother has a good friend he met in medical school who came from a big, wonderful East coast Italian family. The Italian father ruled the roost not unlike my own: with a firmness that is known in our family to inspire “fear of father.” As in, “that kid needs a little fear of father in him, so he’ll straighten up.” One day at the family’s auto shop, this father’s voice could be heard ever so quietly over the loudspeaker, calling his son to attention. “Dominic,” he said quietly, then silence. “Dominic,” again in a hushed voice, followed by silence. Then at a fiercesome pitch: “DOMINIC, why three times?!”

Tabbouleh has taught me a lot about patience. It is one of those dishes that will taste just ok if the preparation is rushed, but will be splendid if you take your time to do the small but important tasks that make it great. It’s stunning to consider how this applies to a whole host of life experiences. If only I had in mind the wisdom of tabbouleh preparation at certain critical junctures, like dating (and…cringe…even marrying) the wrong guy. Whenever I have tapped into this lesson in patience, in taking one’s time without haste (I think often of that moment in Mass, when we pray for protection against “needless anxiety,” the kind that comes with making haste), the results have been not just ok, but splendid.

Parsley is the primary ingredient in tabbouleh, and it needs to be treated with TLC. I’ve made this salad with flat-leaf as well as with curly parsley and am convinced that the curly leaves result in a lighter salad with more body. Choose your parsley with awareness—no yellowing, and lots of nice curls.

Now here’s where the patience comes in. You’ve got to wash and dry that parsley really well. Clean it by dunking bunches in a big bowl of cold water in the sink and shaking it up in there. Pull the parsley back out, pour out the water and replace with new, and rinse it again. Then do it all again. Three times, making sure there is no grit in the last rinse water. The parsley from my garden looked clean, but then I washed it and learned otherwise. Be sure to pull the parsley from the water before pouring it out or you’ll just be dumping the dirt back onto the parsley along with the water you’re discarding.

Dry the parsley by shaking it out good in the sink and then gently wrapping it up like a child after his bath in a dry towel. You can spin it in a salad spinner if you have one, and if not let it air dry on the counter on a towel. Then bundle the parsley in a dry towel in a plastic bag and refrigerate, ideally overnight so it’s crisp and plump.

Pluck the parsley leaves from the stems, pinching all the way up against the leaves. No stems allowed! They will be bad news in your mouth. The leaves are then chopped finely with a sharp knife. (Maybe this will be the dish that gets you to take your knives in for sharpening; you will be amazed at the difference it makes in cooking.) I made tabbouleh once for friends back in Chicago and was in a hurry; I didn’t chop it finely enough, and it was like eating plate garnish. I noticed most of it was left on the plates, as garnish would be, after dinner. I’m going to disappoint you and say that it’s not ideal to chop parsley for tabbouleh in the food processor because it churns the herb into a wet mess. Tabbouleh is a lot of chopping, a labor of love. But if your parsley is bone dry and you are making enough for a Lebanese family reunion (which I don’t recommend), you’re going to go ahead with the food processor and care less about patience, perfection, and all that.

Tomorrow: Tabbouleh. A recipe.

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  1. Peggy on August 9, 2011 at 9:07 AM

    So so true about the washing, sister! I didn’t know about the overnight rest in the refrigerator to plump it up – will bear that in mind next time.

  2. Patti Markho on August 9, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    Maureen, I just caught up on all of your August posts that I missed while I was on vacation and it was a delightful way to start my day. It was like taping five episodes of my favorite show and sitting down on my couch (uninterrupted) with a big cup cake to eat as I watch. They were all just delicious. I have to say that I think the Aunt Hilda post was my favorite. I’m thinking of starting the “Rose Water and Orange Blossoms Fan Club”. This is the best reading!! Keep’em coming!!!

  3. Rina Thoma on August 10, 2011 at 9:43 AM

    Beautiful Maureen, BEAUTIFUL:) You’re blog is my connection to my former life. A life where grocery stores have herbs like curly parsley and grains like cracked wheat:) Not around here sister! Gotta venture over to France for that. Good thing the border is only a 30 minute drive:) I love the simplicity in your recipes and I love your tabbouleh! The minute I can get my hands on some curly parsley and cracked wheat, I’ll be shakin my booty till the sun comes up!!!

    • Maureen Abood on August 10, 2011 at 9:55 AM

      Nobody rocks it like Rini!!!! Gotta go to France for the goods? I’ll meet you there!!

  4. Michele on August 10, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    Your posts and pictures are beautiful…now I know why I’ve never been able to work with parsley well, too wet!….I love the lesson of patience in cooking AND in life…thank you for the reminder and I’ll be passing this on.

    • Maureen Abood on August 11, 2011 at 8:17 AM

      Big hug to you Michele…I saw the pic of you and your baby from your visit with Peg. Beautiful!!

  5. katie dyos on August 10, 2011 at 10:35 PM

    YUM!! Thanks for the inspiration Maureen. Your beautiful recipe will be made this weekend for friends in Tahoe. You are amazing. I love your blog.
    We miss you in SF!

    • Maureen Abood on August 11, 2011 at 8:14 AM

      Katie, thank you–miss you in SF!! Your tabbouleh in Tahoe will be so good.

  6. Tina Hogan on August 11, 2011 at 7:54 AM

    How about every year i make two trays of tabbouleh for our reunion. one with salt and one without! i do use the processor after pinching the parsley (most important) but only on pulse a couple of times. have to have red pepers, celery and cucumber in there!

    • Maureen Abood on August 11, 2011 at 8:13 AM

      Tina, your reunion tabbouleh is impressive!! I like all of the veggies you use…sounds delicious…

  7. tasteofbeirut on August 11, 2011 at 11:49 AM

    When you go to Lebanon you will find the parsley there unlike anything you have ever tasted; the leaves are so tender, so soft, it makes for an amazing tabbouleh.

    • Maureen Abood on August 11, 2011 at 1:30 PM

      Oh Joumana, I simply can’t wait!!

  8. Christine Hogan on September 22, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    I add picking cukes chopped and chopped celery.and regular onion chopped too
    …you are right have to pinch the parsley! its good to have helpers for this job!

  9. joe jackson on July 18, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    I’m gonna offer a parsley “life hack”. After thorough washing and drying, gather by the stems (think that a ’round’ about the diameter of a Quarter works best), take a very sharp knife and run it away from you at an acute angle and 1/8th of an inch off the stems up the bunch to the end. Turn the bunch over 90 degs and repeat, turn and repeat…etc. You’ll effective ‘shave’ the leaves from the stems leaving very little of the latter. This technique also works for other leafy herbs.

  10. Ginny Abood Baldini on July 19, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    I always pick the parsley before I wash it. My mother always said that the first wash of parsley should be done in lukewarm, well salted water. The salt really cleans the parsley and my mom insisted the warmer water perks up even partially wilted parsley.

  11. Virginia on July 11, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    My mother used to gather up all the parsley in large leaves of iceberg lettuce to hold it all together, and then she’d chop away. So the iceberg lettuce was incorporated into the salad.

  12. Foxy Geezer on April 16, 2018 at 8:47 AM

    Wash, wash and soak that parsley!

    I made eight 2×4 trays of kibbeh for my sisters wedding. Received so many compliments. Best kibbeh. Believe me, I was humbled.
    My Tabuleh on the other hand is legendary. (By the way, always organic parsley. (If I can get it. Brighter flavor.) Many Lebanese family cooks. So… guess who makes most of the food for get togethers? We all do and love it! Just love sitting around the table talking, rolling grape leaves and so on. Before you know it, Dinners for 30!
    Plus, we all have a translated cook book from Arabic to English with the as authentic recipes as can be. Amazing book.
    The rose water thing…not for me. And everyone else in my hood! ✌
    Happy Eating!

    • Maureen Abood on April 16, 2018 at 1:45 PM

      Thank you Foxy, and what a great circle of cooks you have in your family!

  13. Lisa on August 16, 2018 at 11:29 AM

    Your thoughts on patience are an inspiration lesson for all of life. Thank you!

  14. Lisa on August 16, 2018 at 11:29 AM

    Your thoughts on patience are an inspirational lesson for all of life. Thank you!

    • Maureen Abood on August 16, 2018 at 11:49 AM

      Thank you so much Lisa!

  15. Patricia on January 17, 2022 at 12:07 PM

    My mother was 100% Sicilian. We lived above my Lebanese grandparents in an upper flat in Detroit. My sittoo instructed my mom in all things Lebanese cooking and also grinding her own spices. My mom had 4 kids under the age of five and a full time job. I’m sure she cut corners out of sheer exhaustion. She made spinach pies for a
    Friday meal and we stood at the oven door waiting for them To Come out. We let the steam escape and practically arm Wrestled to be the first. The first bite was
    Exquisite. The next one – crunch. My mom took a bite of hers, sat down at The kitchen table and began to cry. All of
    That time and effort – she forgot to wash the spinach! Did that stop us? Hell no’.

    • Maureen Abood on January 17, 2022 at 3:39 PM

      Hahahaha!!!! What a darling story and a dear mother!!!

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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!

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