tabbouleh margherita

Tabbouleh Italiano

This summer, I've posted a whole lot of tabbouleh. There was tomatillo tabbouleh verde, inspired by the flavors of Mexican salsa verde, there was ruby fennel tabbouleh with pomegranate seeds, grapefruit supremes, and lots of fennel fronds, and tomorrow I'm posting a guide to building your own tabbouleh. If you experiment with your own spin on the classic, I'd love to hear what you come up with.

While you can totally do this by mixing and matching your favorite flavors (might I suggest the Flavor Bible?), another fun source of inspiration can come from the flavors in your favorite dishes. Do you like cucumber-tomato Jerusalem salad? Why not turn it into tabbouleh! Do you like mint chip ice cream? Make it a tabbouleh with plenty of fresh mint, chocolate chips, and waffle cone crumbles! Or maybe don't try that because it was a joke and sounds pretty gross. But pizza tabbouleh? That will work quite nicely.

Basil
Basil

This tabbouleh is inspired by my favorite pizza, margherita, but without the mozzarella, because I just can't imagine a tabbouleh that isn't vegan. But if you're more of a pizza margherita stickler and less of a tabbouleh stickler, this salad would be delicious with finely diced pieces of fresh mozzarella. While the soft discs of fresh mozzarella are a huge part of why I love pizza margherita, I think it's my favorite because of the enduring combination of fresh tomato and basil.

So instead of parsley and mint, I've gone with parsley, basil, and oregano, which are more true to the margherita flavors. And instead of bulgur, I've used farro, which is a wonderfully chewy Italian grain. It brings that rustic chewiness of a really good Neapolitan pizza to the tabbouleh, which tends to be a little more refined in its texture when made with bulgur. And most importantly, I've included balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice, although I've cut way back on the amount. Balsamic vinegar is more pungent than refreshing and a little goes a long way.

Parsley
Cuban Oregano
Tabbouleh Italiano

tabbouleh margherita

yield: 6 servings
total time: 20 minutes

active time: 15 minutes
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  • 2 cups water

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup farro

  1. Bring the water and salt to a boil in a small saucepan.

  2. Once the water is boiling, add the farro and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 16 minutes, or according to the package instructions. The farro is done when it is al dente (pleasantly chewy).

  3. Prep the other ingredients while the farro cooks.

  4. Strain and then rinse the farro in lukewarm water for about 30 seconds. Drain well and add to a mixing bowl.

  • 1 packed cup minced parsley

  • 1/4 cup basil chiffonade

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced oregano

  • 1/2 cup minced green onion

  • 1 cup minced brown or red tomatoes, strained, juices discarded

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, plus more to taste

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Add the parsley, basil, oregano, green onions, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to the farro.

  2. Combine, taste it, and adjust the seasoning to taste (oil, vinegar, salt, pepper).

  3. This tabbouleh is best when served immediately, but is still very good the next day. Use a sharp knife to make sure the herbs don't turn brown.

Tabbouleh Italiano

a vegetarian meze dinner party

vegetarian meze dinner party

A few months ago, my friend Amadi suggested putting some of the recipes I've already posted together in a meal plan post. I immediately latched onto this idea, and have been daydreaming about it at least every day since then, but it sat at the bottom of my list for a long time because the idea of photographing and developing an entire dinner was totally daunting. I cook meals like this for friends and family all the time, and I post two new recipes here every week, but it would take so much more work to write and photograph an entire post about an elaborate dinner.

But it was during one of these moments of anxious daydreaming when I realized that, actually, most people are probably like me. While it can be fun to occasionally spend the whole day cooking, life is usually pretty hectic, and it would be so much more lovely to spend all the time you would have spent cooking just enjoying the company of friends and family, savoring a beautiful meal together. So for my first meal plan post, I've put together a classic dinner party that you can easily accomplish with just a little daily effort. Hopefully there will be more of these posts in the future (Sunday night meal prep, summer grilling, make-ahead brunches, and holiday planning are all on the horizon), but for now, I thought it would be nice to keep things simple with an easy vegetarian meze.

hummus
labneh

A meze (also known as mezze, mazze, or mazzeh) is a meal or appetizer course consisting of a bunch of small dishes. A meze will often include lots of finger foods, so it's a really great tool for entertaining, especially if you don't have enough room for a big seated dinner. And while this vegetarian meze looks elaborate, it actually only takes about 4 days of cooking for 35 minutes/day, to pull it off (not counting the optional tasks, like blending your own spices). It's absolutely not aspirational, even though it looks it.

The first trick to planning an easy dinner menu is knowing what to make when; for instance, the amba should be made earlier in the week because it needs a few days to pickle in the fridge, while the feta should be plated about an hour before guests arrive, and somewhere in the middle, the spreads won't suffer from sitting in the fridge for 1 or 2 days. By spacing things out, you'll only have to put in a little effort at a time.

amba
olives

But even more than scheduling, I'm a fan of relying on cleverness instead of hard work whenever possible. So the second trick is including a few things that you can buy, but which still seem really special and lovely. While making everything from scratch can be fun when you're looking for a big project, sometimes it's nice to simply place ingredients together in an appealing and surprising way. Everyone will be delighted with the feta, radishes, and herbs, which will take you literally 5 minutes to put together. Don't be surprised if this even outshines the homemade double-roast baba ganoush, which takes 45 minutes to make (although it's a tough call).

To make this meal plan super straightforward, I've put together a grocery list and schedule. If you follow my plan below, you'll totally pull it off with just a little effort every day. I've timed the schedule so that you will have everything ready for a Saturday dinner party, but you can obviously change the days if you'd prefer to throw a party on another day.

feta, basil, and radishes

The Menu: A Vegetarian Meze Dinner Party

Labneh dressed with extra virgin olive oil and za'atar or your favorite dried herb *
Hummus dressed with extra virgin olive oil and baharat or paprika
Baba ganoush dressed with olive oil and parsley
Tabbouleh (I added pomegranates to this one, which is optional)
Feta cheese with olive oil, basil (or mint), and radishes
Olives
Amba
Pita bread *

* For this easy menu, the labneh and pita bread are store-bought, but feel free to make your own if you're feeling ambitious.

Dietary restrictions

Edit the grocery list and schedule if you plan to add any of this to your menu:

To make this vegan, you could replace the labneh with muhammara or banadurah harrah, which would take more time to prepare, but can be made ahead of time on Thursday when you make the hummus (or you could just leave out the labneh). The feta can be replaced with your favorite vegan cheese.

Cooked quinoa can be used instead of bulgur in the tabbouleh, and you can use carrot and cucumber slices instead of pita bread, which makes the original menu gluten free.

The Grocery List

Pantry

2 15.5-ounce cans chickpeas
Tahini
Pita bread
Apple cider vinegar
Salt
Extra virgin olive oil
Bulgur (preferably burghul number 1, but couscous, quinoa, or another bulgur will work)

Spices

Za'atar or your favorite dried herb (optional: make your own za'atar)
Baharat or paprika (optional, make your own baharat)
Yellow curry powder
Ground fenugreek seeds (optional)
Turmeric powder
Red pepper flakes

Produce

7 lemons (if they don't seem very heavy, buy more to be safe)
3 pounds baby Italian eggplants (about 7 baby Italian eggplants)
1 small head garlic
3 big bunches parsley
4 plum tomatoes
1 bunch mint
1 bunch green onions
1 bunch basil (or skip it if your mint bunch is really big and you want to find a way to use it up)
1 bunch radishes
Assorted olives
3 green, unripe mangoes
Pomegranate seeds (optional, for the tabbouleh)

Dairy

Feta cheese
Labneh (if you can't find labneh, you can buy whole milk Greek yogurt and just use it as is. Greek yogurt is not exactly the same thing as labneh, but it's still very tasty, and great if you add a lot of extra toppings)

tabbouleh
baba ganoush

The Schedule

Wednesday

Go grocery shopping.
Pickle the amba. (25 minutes)

Thursday

Make the hummus and plate it, but don't dress it. (15 minutes)
Cut the pita bread into wedges and put it in a ovenproof serving dish. Cover it to keep it from drying out. (5 minutes)
Plate the olives. (1 minute)

Friday

Make the baba ganoush and plate it with the olive oil and parsley on top. (40 minutes)

Saturday morning

Make the tabbouleh and plate it (add pomegranate seeds if you bought them, and and use a food processor to chop the herbs by just pulsing them a few times, if you want to speed things up). (30 minutes)
Wash/dry the basil and slice the radishes. (10 minutes)
Set the table (either for a sit-down meal or hors d'oeuvres around a coffee table)

Saturday evening, the hour before serving

Plate the feta with olive oil, basil, and radishes. (2 minutes)
Plate the labneh with olive oil and za'atar/herbs. (5 minutes)
Dress the hummus with olive oil and paprika or baharat. (2 minutes)
Plate the amba or just open one of the jars. (1 minute)
Put the pita bread in the oven at 200° F for about 15 minutes until you're ready to serve. (1 minute active time)
Check the photo below to make sure you didn't leave something in the fridge, and enjoy!

vegetarian meze