It’s a melting pot of nationalities, which means there are many cultures, but more importantly it means the cuisine is a fantastic mix.
The best way to describe the local food is to say it is very similar to Lebanese, with a lot of focus on grains and pulses. Hummous, kebabs, flat breads all feature heavily of the restaurant menus. But despite all the delicious combinations on offer, one little salad caught my attention.
Tabbouleh is well known in the UK, with supermarkets like M&S selling small pots of it in their ‘Lunch to Go’ ranges. The western version of this salad usually consists of a lot of cous cous or Bulgar wheat, minimal amounts of herbs and generally tastes a little bland.
But in Arabic countries, Tabbouleh is a herb salad of fresh parsley and mint, incorporating spices, tomatoes, lemon juice and just a couple of spoonfuls of Bulgar wheat. It’s such a refreshing accompaniment to grilled fish or barbecued meat (or if you’re me, on its own, crammed into a hummus spread flat bread or pitta!)
Obviously in the heat of the Middle East, the key to food is to keep it light and fresh, & for that, Tabbouleh is perfect.
The disadvantage with making this salad in the UK is that fresh herbs can be quite expensive here, especially in the quantities you need for a decent sized bowlful (and trust me, you will, this stuff is so moreish!). For more affordable herbs, try a market, where you’re more likely to be able to buy large bunches of fresh herbs, rather than in the supermarkets where you can only buy a few sprigs.
I’ve returned from Qatar with a large jar of Tabbouleh spice, very kindly given to me by my friends’ Mum, but you can easily mix your own version together and keep in a sealed jar, or forgo the spices altogether, up to you!
Now, I’ve looked all over for the secret to the perfect Tabbouleh spice and finished product for that matter, but it appears there isn’t one perfect recipe, everyone has their own version according to location and handed down recipes! But to add to all of those, here is my version.
In a small bowl, mix equal quantities of the following ground spices.
Pop the spice mix into an old jam jar and keep for later use.
This salad is very much about personal taste, so if you’re not so keen on raw onions, reduce the amount, or chop them first and pop into some lemon juice to take the raw flavour out of them. Likewise with the dressing, if you prefer a more tart flavour, add more lemon juice and vice versa.
1 large bunch of fresh parsley chopped finely
1 small bunch of fresh mint chopped finely
1/4 of a cucumber, diced (about the size of a sweet corn kernel)
4 medium sized tomatoes, chopped (sweet corn sized)
1 small red onion, diced (sweet corn sized again!)
1/4 cup of grade 1 Bulgar wheat (the finest Bulgar wheat – if you can’t get Bulgar, try cous cous, it’s not traditional but it’ll work just fine and just make it up according to the packet)
1/2 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp of Tabbouleh spice (see above to mix your own)
1/3 of good quality olive oil
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (taste your lemons!)
Firstly pour the lemon juice over the Bulgar wheat and set aside to swell
Finely chop the herbs, tomatoes, cucumber and stir together
Chop the onion and add the spice mix
Finally add all the ingredients together in a large bowl and fork it together (don’t over stir as it will become mushy!)
Serve with grilled meat & fish or with crisp lettuce leaves to scoop it up with. Yum.