What Is Tabouli?

Some friends and I recently went to a Lebanese restaurant in Los Angeles and had a full-on mezze: a table filled with small dishes of some of the best Middle Eastern food I’ve ever had. Nestled in between the plates of hummus and baba ganoush was a heaping mound of tabouli salad. I helped myself to a liberal portion, but was left wondering how this great food came to be. So, amidst bites, I Googled, while my friends made passive aggressive comments about me using the phone at the dinner table. They didn’t understand: I was on an important fact-finding mission! What is tabouli? You’re about to find out. 

What is tabouli?

Tabouli—or tabbouleh—is a salad dish that appears in many cuisines throughout the Levant area of the Middle East: Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, and further afield in countries like Cyprus, Armenia, and Egypt. Lebanon even has a National Tabbouleh Day (it’s the first Saturday in July), which shows just how serious they are about it.

The word tabouli derives from the Arabic word that translates rather literally into “dip.” While you may be more inclined to scoop tabouli rather than dip, the name is appropriate because it is often served along with many other dips and sauces—like tahini—as one of the essential pillars of a mezze.

What is in tabouli?

Tabouli is similar in a lot of ways to its cold, grain-based salad cousins couscous and quinoa. However, the base of tabouli is bulgur instead of semolina or whatever the heck quinoa is (no one knows). (Okay, actually we do know and we wrote a whole article answering the question, what is quinoa.) 

Bulgur is a whole grain; it is made from a wheat grain that still has its shell on. The wheat grain is parboiled and, in the process, it cracks. Once it’s dried, it is considered bulgur. This grain has a nutty taste and a harder texture than rice.

Tabouli mixes a wide range of ingredients into the bulgur: parsley, mint, tomatoes, onion, olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and a variety of spices. Each country tends to have their own variation on this theme. For example, the Lebanese use more parsley than bulgur, whereas in Turkey, the opposite is true. 

What do you eat with tabouli?

The next time you are at a Middle Eastern restaurant, do yourself this favor. Take a piece of pita bread, slather it with baba ganoush, add a helping of tabouli, some olives or roasted vegetables—basically just add a little bit of everything that’s in the mezze—and take a big bite. The flavor train that you’re getting on will be first class.

Tabouli is also good eating just on its own as a salad, and you can find it pre-made in many grocery stores and Middle Eastern specialty stores.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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