In Geneva we have a lot of little Lebanese takeaway cafes. In Australia we have them too, but we also have a dynasty who have made Lebanese food a cuisine as sophisticated as any. Greg Malouf is the product of his elderly female relatives who still run the best, most famous of them all: Ablas
We have also, in addition, the work of Tess Mallos whose monumental opus on Middle East cooking has been a bible for many years in this part of the world.
Set this into a background of a country that has – well, I really want to say the best food habits, the most varied cuisine, the highest standards of produce and restauranting in the world…or thereabouts.
I’m trying to get you to understand how it is that the great tabbouleh controversy took place here. Tess Mallos was seen on TV to suggest putting a substantial ratio of burghul. Uproar. Letters to the editor! It wouldn’t surprise me if there were questions put in parliament. She stood firm for some time, claiming, as might be obvious, that tabbouleh is not cast in stone, it is an idea with variants to taste. Her opposition was unmoved. Finally she caved in. Sort of like the carbon-pricing debate in Australia recently but to better effect.
Whether or not there IS legitimate claim to the idea that tabbouleh may have too much burghul in it, one is nonetheless best off ignoring this whole line of argument. When restaurants put lots of burghul in because it is cheap and maybe lasts longer than the other ingredients. They think they can get away with letting it sit for too long. NOT A VERY GOOD REASON, is it?
The secret of tabbouleh is not what you put into it. It is making it dry.
DRY. DRY. DRY. Desert dry. I so don’t want to have sex dry. Think of the driest thing in the world. THAT dry.
A little burghul, fine is considered best and you won’t even need to soak it, but coarse will do, then soak first….3 tablespoons for the rest of these ingredients. If you soak it, then drain it so it is DRY NOT MUSHY.
3 medium (600g) firm ripe tomatoes. Slice, deseed and drain for at least 30 minutes. You want them DRY!!!! Dice into small cubes.
2 (50g) spring onions, trimmed and very thinly sliced
lots of flat-leaved parsley, mostly leaves. At least 2 large bunches. Wash, and DRY really really well. Chop fairly finely.
2 cups (20g) mint leaves (no stems), washed and DRIED. Chop fairly finely.
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
salt to taste
juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
2/3 cup (150ml) extra virgin olive oil
Assemble all this just before eating firstly because herbs hate being chopped and secondly because it will keep it all dry. You want everything to be crisp in your salad, NOT mushy.
Maybe you are getting the message here. This dish if done properly and fresh is fantastic. But restaurants obviously aren’t going to do that. It is time consuming and laboursome. And you would have to wait for it like it was risotto or something, and who’s ever heard of waiting for a salad? Well. Now you have.