If there’s a more refreshing, satisfying thing to eat in the summer besides a bowl of tabbouleh, I’m hard-pressed to find it. I’d eaten tabbouleh–or what I’d thought was tabbouleh–several times before I visited Greece, but it was at a small cafe in Athens, where I got a mouthful of the REAL stuff, that I realized I’d been totally ripped off in the US of A.
The tabbouleh of my past was grain-heavy, oil-slicked and nothing to write home about. Not so the Greek version. The Greek version was a revelation. It packed a huge flavor punch and was deeply vegetal and lemon-forward. The secret is in the ratio of ingredients. Authentic tabbouleh isn’t about the grains–the cracked wheat is almost an afterthought. What the dish is heavy on is the fresh herbs (parsley and mint–and a shocking amount of it) and ripe tomatoes, snappy cucumber and lots and lots of lemon in the dressing. It’s a salad that happens to have a bit of grain in it, not the other way around.
Thank you, Greece, for turning my tabbouleh life around.
Since that trip to the Greek isles, I’ve made bowls and bowls of proper tabbouleh every summer. I never get sick of it, even though I have to settle for American tomatoes. You guys. Greek tomatoes…oh, Lordy. Nothing is equal to them, except Amalfi coast tomatoes in Italy, which are just as swoon-worthy. If there’s a heaven, it’s filled with platters of tomatoes from those Mediterranean marvels. My version of heaven, anyways.
Even if you have to settle in the tomato department, if you stick to the proper ratio of ingredients, you’ll still be a happy eater.
You might even increase the happiness factor by using farro* instead of the traditional bulgur in the dish. I have nothing against bulgur, mind you. It’s delicious in tabbouleh. But you know what’s even better? Farro, my new best friend from Italy and partner in crime. The heft and chew of the farro gives you a completely different tabbouleh experience, and it’s incredibly delicious. I’m going to audaciously predict that it’s going to be your new favorite summer lunch.
And, if you shamelessly gild the lily with salty, creamy, smoky slabs of grilled halloumi cheese, you’re looking at your new favorite summer dinner.
If you’ve never had halloumi, a brilliant cheese from Greece, get it in your life as soon as humanly possible. Just. Do. It.
I know, I’m bossy, but you won’t regret bringing halloumi into your culinary lexicon. It’s not as exotic as it sounds. If you have a decent grocery store, I bet you can find halloumi even if you’ve never heard of the stuff before. I mean, I live in Longmont, Colorado and our Kroger carries it.
It’s worth tracking down, because it’s so damn good. It’s a very white, very firm cheese that holds its shape when grilled–and you have to grill it, because the real magic happens when you do that. It gets kissed with smoke and just barely melty, and hoo-boy, it’s the stuff of your cheese dreams.
Halloumi carries this dish solidly into “meal” territory, and that’s a good thing. Sure, you can definitely serve a grilled chop or a piece of fish alongside, but for me, it’s all about the cheese. Call me Halloumi Girl. I don’t mind.
I may never *sob* visit Greece again, but even if I never spend another sun-kissed afternoon sitting at a cafe, gazing at azure waters, I can go there in my mind, just by eating this dish.
Bring it on.
Farro Tabbouleh with Grilled Halloumi
1 cup farro, rinsed
4 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
juice and zest of one lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic or white balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, grated
salt and pepper
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2/3 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/3 cup finely diced red onion
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup seeded cucumber, diced
1 (6-oz) block Halloumi cheese, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Place farro, broth and salt in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. turn heat down to medium to medium low; farro should be at a brisk simmer. Cook about 20 minutes or until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Combine lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk to blend. Pour dressing over farro. Set aside.
Combine red onion, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley and mint in a large bowl. Add dressed farro and toss to coat. Let stand a half hour to allow flavors to blend.
Cut halloumi into 1/4-inch slices. Heat grill to medium high. Brush halloumi with olive oil and grill 2 minutes. Flip halloumi and grill on the other side another 1-2 minutes.
Serve halloumi with lemon wedges on top of farro taboulleh.
* I had some readers write me to say that there’s a quicker way to cook farro, if time is of the essence. Instead of cooking the farro at the barest simmer, cook it at a rolling simmer–on medium-low heat, not simmer/low. It will take about 20 minutes, and when I tried this method, I worked great. I couldn’t discern any difference in this batch of farro vs the slower method. Thanks, awesome readers! You rock my world.