About a hundred years ago when I was in college, I worked at a place called ArtPark in Western New York. ArtPark is a state park dedicated to the visual and performing arts. It was there that I was able to see operas, ballets, musicals and artists such as Alberta Hunter, Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Corea and Victor Borge along with a cast of visual artists that took residence in the park each summer. It opened up my eyes to a big creative world.
My wonderful boss and early style guru, Joan McDonough, started a food service project at the park that provided fresh, healthy food for two different food cafes in the park, as well as prepared picnic baskets for theater goers and catered events within the park. Seeing some kind of potential in me that I didn't know I had myself, she put me in charge of the newly built kitchen.
We made vegetarian sandwiches on pita bread which most people had never seen before (avocado, cream cheese, sliced radishes, scallions and alfalfa sprouts was one of my favorites) and salads that were very innovative for the time and place. Never having seen many of these foods such as humus and tabouli, before, I wasn't sure how they were "supposed to be" so I used interpreted recipes and created what food that I thought tasted good.
My tabouli variation became a cult phenomenon. People would call from all over Western New York and Southern Ontario saying they were visiting the park that day and wanted to make sure that we would had tabouli. Our food was reviewed in the Toronto newspaper and my tabouli quickly became known as "Steve's Tabouli."
Today I'd like to share my tabouli recipe. Many of the ingredients are optional so if you don't like one of the ingredients, just leave it out. The thing that is critical is bulghur wheat.
Bulghur wheat is whole wheat that's been cleaned, parboiled, dried and then ground and sifted so it's all uniform in size. If you can't find it at the grocery store, you should be able to find it at smaller natural food stores.
I always just wing the recipe but I made it yesterday and wrote everything down so I could share it. This would make enough as a side dish for about 8 people. Here's how it goes:
2 cups bulghur wheat.
3 cups water
2 tsp. salt
2 cloves garlic
1/4 olive oil
Add water and salt to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. While the water is boiling, crush the garlic into a small bowl and cover with olive oil. This allows the garlic to infuse into the oil. Once water is boiling, turn off heat, add bulghur, stir and cover for about 20 minutes until all water is absorbed. Stir in the garlic and olive oil and allow the bulghur to cool.
Once the bulghur is cool, add the following:
2 medium carrots, shredded
1/2 English cucumber, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
5-6 scallions, chopped
1 packed cup of chopped parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
Stir in juice of 1 large lemon, about 1/4 cup
Cover and refrigerate for at least three hours.
Add salt and pepper to taste before serving.
The tabouli keeps for days so it's great to make a big batch on the weekend and enjoy it on summer evenings when you don't want to cook.
I hope you enjoy my own version of this classic vegetarian dish.