A Winter Tabbouleh

winter tabbouleh 12.1.12First things first.

Parsley.

Into the bowl it went. Thinly sliced, including a good three inches of stem for each sprig. And then each ingredient that followed added in proportion to the parsley, which has been, after all, the star of the past few weeks.

This parsley focus led me to think tabbouleh. That wonderful parsley-laden Middle Eastern salad where the freshness of parsley, along with mint and lemon, melds with bulgur wheat, diced tomatoes and maybe even cucumber for something refreshing and satisfying on a hot summer day.

But it’s December now.

So…how to translate that freshness and lightness while playing with a winter palette.

I did this. I used the sweeter orange instead of lemon. I used the tart juiciness of pomegranate seeds instead of tomatoes or cucumbers. I didn’t use mint. I added the bite of red onion and garlic, the richness of a swirl of extra virgin olive oil, and a floral back note with orange flower water. This turned out to be one of those combinations that is more than the sum of its parts.

I kept approximate measurements along the way so I could offer a guideline. Of course, as is so often true in cooking, proportions can be tweaked to personal taste.

Here are the ingredients I tumbled in, one after the other.

  • One bunch of parsley, trimmed to include three inches of stems. Finely sliced, the stems minced. About 1 1/2 cups loosely packed.
  • 2 cups cooked cracked wheat at room temperature (Bulgur wheat is the usual grain in tabbouleh, I know, and the differences could be the topic of a post at a later date, but, for now, well, cracked wheat is what I had on hand.)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion
  • Zest of one orange
  • Seeds from one pomegranate (reserve the juice) (Instructions and videos abound online on how to do this. I have followed instructions to cut them in half, hitting them with a wooden spoon to release the seeds into a bowl, and once used a technique that required submerging them in water. This time, I just cut it in half horizontally, set a strainer over a bowl, and squeezed each half over it. Simple. Juice traveled through to the bowl, the seeds stayed in the strainer. I turned the skin inside out to poke at and release what didn’t come out in the squeezing. Any of the pulp I removed.)
  • About a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to stir through and coat
  • About a tablespoon of orange flower water. It was one of those serendipitous things that I happened to have, which is why I even thought to try it. I think if I hadn’t had it, I would simply have upped the orange zest some.
  • Salt and pepper to taste, but you don’t need much, and might even choose to forego both. I might next time I do these, the other flavors being substantial on their own.

Toss lightly. Done. This is wonderful right here, as is.

But…if you want to take it one step further, and I suggest you do, then…

Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. A canola oil, or some other flavorless oil.  While that’s heating, mix one egg and about 1/4 cup or so of plain breadcrumbs into the tabbouleh, enough so that it holds together when you form them into small balls. Set them in the pan to fry, turning them as each side browns. When they’re done, drain them on a rack.

dip and tabbouleh balls 12.1.12In the meantime, you can make a nice little dip for them. Keeping with the Middle Eastern idea, I chose a plain yogurt. To six ounces of yogurt, I added two tablespoons of the fresh pomegranate juice and one teaspoon of orange flower water. It turns a beautiful pale fuchsia color. And if you hold back a smidgen of the chopped parsley and a few pomegranate seeds from earlier, they look festive tossed on top.

The slightly crisp, browned outside of these balls mixed with the light and bright flavors on the inside made them fun to eat. And a little dip into the fuchsia yogurt took them over the top.

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