Tabbouleh by Night, Tabbouleh by Day: Recipes That Honor the Ancient Harvest

Serving tabbouleh reminds us of how our forefathers celebrated the harvest in the wilderness.

Dan Peretz

In olden times, as summer waned, the men, women and children would go out to the orchards and fields and dwell there in makeshift huts. The village houses were far away and the lovely crops beckoned to all passersby; so to guard the harvest, and instead of wasting the cool morning hours trudging back and forth from the village, the farmers of this land spent their days and nights in the fields.

During the day, they would gather the last of the summer crops in bundles, pick the last of the fruit in the orchards and harvest the clusters of grapes that took the longest to ripen in the vineyard. The earth was gray and dry, and rubble nicked the feet of those rushing to get their crops to the granary before the first rain. Still, the families who spent their days together made the harvest season a real holiday. As evening fell they would prepare their meals together, sometimes singing a little or playing musical instruments, and gaze up at the stars to give thanks for the harvest and pray for the new plantings to grow, until they finally lay down to sleep.

The Torah encapsulated this season for us and commanded us to dwell in sukkahs for eight days. I don’t know if our forefathers who went out of Egypt had beams and fronds for building actual sukkahs in the desert; perhaps they dwelled in tents or slept under the stars. And our sages taught that it was not a material sukkah that protected that generation from the sun and the elements as they wandered in the wilderness, but rather the “clouds of glory” with which the Lord sheltered them. And when they entered the land and began to work the soil and clear it and plant it, and went out into the fields during the harvest season and dwelled once gain in makeshift sukkot, they must have recalled the clouds of glory that accompanied them in the wilderness, and been full of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Such was the custom in our land from days of yore until not very long ago at all, and there are places where this is still the custom, where people go out to the fields, even if by car, and sleep there for days or weeks, to work the land and guard it and give thanks for the fruits of the earth.

The wheat kernels gathered by the women were stored in granaries. Some were cracked and cooked and then dried once more in the last rays of the sun so it would be easier to cook with them in the winter. The Arabs call this wheat burghul, in English it is known as bulgur, and it’s wonderful for making all kinds of salads and other dishes; it can carry an entire meal, just like bread or rice or potatoes.

When I sit down to eat and give praise and thanks for the earth that gave us its fruits, and for the clouds of glory that sheltered and escorted us to the land flowing with milk and honey, I’ll place some bulgur on the table so my children will eat it and ask what it is, and then I’ll tell them about our forefathers who wandered in the wilderness and became farmers, and about the wilderness that awaits us if we cease to work the land.

Galilean tabbouleh

Tabbouleh originated in Syrian-Lebanese cuisine, where the use of bulgur is very common. Cracked wheat is sorted by size – from coarse bulgur, which is what I prefer to use in salads, to the very finest kind, jarish, used in making kubbeh, for instance. Tabbouleh is made of minced vegetables and herbs mixed with bulgur and seasoned with olive oil and lemon. Some like to add pomegranate seeds when in season, or to season with a little allspice and cinnamon. I prefer the fresh green version, slightly bitter from the mint leaves and slightly sharp from the onion, and as fresh as a newly blooming field.

3/4 cup coarse bulgur

1 small red onion

2 firm cucumbers

1 ripe tomato

1 large bunch parsley

12 sprigs cilantro (optional)

leaves from 6 sprigs of mint

1/4 cup olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

sea salt

coarsely ground black pepper

Rinse the bulgur in a strainer under the tap and then soak for an hour in a bowl of water at room temperature. When the bulgur has absorbed some of the water and softened a bit, drain well and squeeze out the excess water. Transfer to a wide bowl.

Mince the onion, cucumber and tomato and add to the bulgur. Mince the parsley, cilantro and mint and add to the mixture. Pour the olive oil and lemon juice over it, season with salt and pepper and mix. Serve the salad fresh with pita and good tehina.

Japanese tabbouleh

Using bulgur in a Japanese seaweed salad in place of rice noodles lends a pleasing surprise to the taste and texture. I like to use the relatively mild-tasting wakame seaweed, but you can also use other kinds with a stronger taste. Whichever you choose, don’t skimp on the wasabi – along with the lemon, soy sauce, vinegar and ginger, it’s what really makes the salad so invigorating.

3/4 cup coarse bulgur

4 heaping tbsp dry wakame seaweed

6 radishes

2 cucumbers

3 scallions

1 lemon

1 cm fresh ginger root, grated

3 tbsp soy sauce

3 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tbsp peanut or corn oil

1 heaping tsp wasabi powder

a handful of almonds or peanuts

Rinse the bulgur in a strainer under the tap and soak for an hour in a bowl of water at room temperature. When the bulgur has absorbed some of the water and softened a bit, strain well, squeeze out the excess water and transfer to a wide bowl.

Soak the wakame leaves in a wide bowl with two cups of water for an hour. They wll triple in volume at least. Drain and add to the bowl with the bulgur.

Cut the radishes in half and then slice thin. Mince the cucumber and cut the scallions in thin rings. Rinse the lemon well and dice it with the peel. Add everything to the bowl and toss lightly.

Combine the grated ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar and oil and pour over the salad. Sprinkle the wasabi powder on top and mix everything together until all the powder is absorbed. Let the salad sit for about 10 minutes, then taste and adjust the seasonings if needed. Before serving, chop the almonds or peanuts and add them to the salad. Serve in small bowls with a piece of raw fish on top and a cup of green tea.

Chocolate and grapefruit tabbouleh

Bulgur, which is grainy yet soft, adds a marvelous texture to chocolate. This tabbouleh is a surprising, quite delicious and simple-to-make dessert. Most of it can be prepared ahead of time, so that you just assemble the dish right before serving. You can also toast the bulgur slightly before adding it to the melted chocolate, but I prefer the version in which it’s a little chewy and gives the chocolate pieces a pleasing bit of texture. Try it once and you’ll be hooked.

1/4 cup bulgur

100 gr good quality dark chocolate

1 pink grapefruit

a handful of roasted and shelled peanuts

Rinse the bulgur in a strainer under the tap and soak for an hour in a bowl with 1/2 cup water at room temperature. When the bulgur has absorbed some of the water and softened a bit, drain well and squeeze out the excess water. Spread the bulgur on paper towels and allow it to dry well.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl placed over a pot of gently boiling water (bain-marie). When the chocolate has melted, add the bulgur and stir. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture onto a baking pan lined with baking paper. Flatten and spread out to form a thin sheet of chocolate and put in the freezer.

Peel the grapefruit and use a sharp knife to extract the sections from their skin. Place the grapefruit sections in individual bowls, 3-4 pieces per bowl. Remove the sheet of chocolate from the freezer and break it into pieces over the bowls of grapefruit. Sprinkle some of the peanuts on top and serve immediately. Eat with a spoon.