When I was a tot, we lived close enough to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn that my childhood was seasoned with an abundance of middle-eastern food: baba ganoush, spinach pies, hummus. This was back in the Pleistocene Era, before hummus became what it is today: as ubiquitous as spackle, and half as tasty, and as subject to crimes of cultural collision as any number of other airport foods (chipotle-sundried tomato hummus, anyone?). The hummus of my childhood came from Sahadi’s, and it was creamier and more salty and lemony than any other hummus I’ve since had, and I have never been able to recreate it. In Sam Sifton’s book about Thanksgiving, which I highly recommend you read before Turkey Time looms again, he says that one thing that separates restaurant cooks from their home counterparts is a willingness to use way more butter and salt than people are comfortable using under their own roofs. I think he has a point there, but I can take a pretty free hand with the salt, lemon and olive oil and still not recreate the Sahadi hummus which, like a ringing bell, makes me drool whenever I think of it. Maybe this primer will help me, if I ever get around to it. I live now among the hummus-averse, likely because we are too far from Atlantic Avenue for them to have developed their tastebuds properly.
Another pillaged, plundered and pilloried food from that part of the global menu would have to be tabbouleh. On Atlantic Avenue, and again when we traveled a couple years ago to its home turf, I knew tabbouleh to be mainly greens, with flecks of grain and those same copious amounts of lemon, olive oil and salt (the holy threesome of salad) to bind it together. But generally speaking, the tabbouleh you find in the American wilds is more grain than green, and very raw-onion-heavy, and abusive of its tomatoes. Plus you have bulghur involved, which is wheat, which is not tolerable to the intolerant.
So, having mouthed off about the travesties of Confusion Cuisine, let me back-pedal with vigor to say I don’t mind adapting something to personal taste–as long as claims to authenticity are forfeited openly. Here is my open forfeit (I extend it figuratively), along with what has to be the best menu option ever observed on a computer since they were invented, presented via actual screenshot:
Those formalities aside, and with apologies to anyone with a deep-rooted cultural tie to a salad of greens and grains as it was meant to be, here is a little unruly tabbouleh. In an uncharacteristic burst of energy last night, I rolled some of it into some blanched kale leaves, and let the bundles sit overnight in a brine of the holy threesome (lemon, olive oil and salt); they were far too tart and salty last night, but all that married well in the refrigerator, and they were quite tasty today. It’s a highly optional step.
I suppose you could revert and use bulghur, if you and bulghur are mutually tolerant, or any other grain that appealed to you. Or the quinoa could be some other color besides red. Think unruly thoughts. Unblock your blocked areas. See where you get.
the base is composed of:
- 2 c cooked quinoa, cooled
- generous half cup of very finely minced parsley
- about 3 T finely chopped mint
- a few twists of black pepper
- a pinch of cumin
and then you dude that up with all (in my case) or any (possibly in yours) of the following, or their equivalent source of your personal joy:
- about half a cup of chopped pecans
- 1 medium, very in-season, delicious tomato, chopped
- 1 peach (as above), peeled and chopped
- about half a cup of crumbled feta
- a tablespoon or two of brined capers
- a tablespoon or so of chopped green olives
- the tail ends of some blanched greens, finely chopped
and then you add, with a liberal hand
- olive oil
- fresh lemon
to just past your taste, because it will mellow as it sits, which happens to many of us, given conducive surroundings.