Summer has finally—reliably—come to Colorado, even at my elevation of 7400 feet. Nights are cool, days are still unpredictable, with anything from withering heat to chilly winds to sudden hailstorms, but at least the garden is starting to explode with produce (which is always good news to me).
A few days ago, my wife announced that the parsley needed thinning, and perhaps tabouli was in order. Actually, the second part of what she said was that maybe I would like to make some quinoa, which was my cue that I would be making tabouli. If you listen, you learn to hear what a woman is really saying.
There were two ingredients missing—scallions and mint—but since the outcome was predetermined, I began pawing through the refrigerator for stand-ins. Finding a way to make a dish work in spite of challenges like this isn’t hard once you’ve removed the “I can’t, without this one item” obstacle. I know that sounds easy (even obvious), but for me it’s not. I can start with nothing and build up something entirely new—even a really good something—but unless I begin with the idea of deviating from a classic that works very well the way it has always been done, most often I’d rather postpone the project until I have what I need to do it right. So I had to let that go of that ostacle and find new ingredients. This was good. The ability to let go is one of life’s most important and valuable skills.
Liberated from the strictures of what tabouli is, I felt free to throw in roasted garlic (my wife has trouble sleeping if she eats raw garlic at dinnertime), red onion, roasted red peppers (a great love of mine) and kalamata olives. The garlic I passed through a garlic press, and then mashed it into a smooth puree. The onion I diced finely; the peppers and olives I cut into quarter-inch dice. Everything else went the way it normally does.
My beloved gardener also brought in a small stack of velvety, tender young Portuguese kale leaves, and the idea of using them as a wrap appeared. I decided to use tahini as a spread. What I had at the bottom of a jar was quite thick and dry, so I thinned it with some Udo’s Oil.
The kale was so thin and yielding, it made the perfect wrap for this taboulish filling and its tahinish sauce, barely offering any resistance to the bite. A perfect light dinner for a warm summer evening!
As so often occurs, bending the culinary rules just a little (even on an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it dish like tabouli) was a revelation. And, of course it must be noted, the substitution of quinoa for the traditional bulghur happened so long ago that I had completely forgotten my original rule-bending. Funny how that happens. One new adjustment becomes standard procedure, and before you know it, that becomes the new tradition. I hope my Lebanese friends will forgive my insertion of a Bolivian pseudograin into their culinary gem. I don’t expect the other adjustments I made on this occasion to take root. I still favor the original tabouli (with my South American changeling). But if you want to know how I made this, here’s the recipe:
3/4 cup white quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspooon unrefined sea salt
4 cups chopped parsley
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 roasted red pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
10 (or so) kalamata olives, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon jice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used Spanish Hojiblanca for its robust flavor)
4 cloves roasted garlic, passed through a garlic press and mashed to a paste
1/4 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup tahini (raw or roasted)
2 tablespoons Udo’s Oil
8 tender young leaves Portuguese kale (or whatever leaves you prefer)
Rinse the quinoa and put it in a small saucepan with the water and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then decrease the heat to the lowest setting. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Fluff with a spatula and let cool to room temperature. If you’re in a hurry, spread it out on a sheet of parchment paper and fan it with a magazine.
Transfer the cooled quinoa to a medium bowl and add the parsley, onion, roasted pepper and olives. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, roasted garlic, salt and pepper together until emulsified. Taste and adjust flavor by adding more lemon juice, oil or seasoning, if needed. Pour over the quinoa mixture and stir well.
To make the wraps, spread about 1 tablespoon of the tahini mixture on the kale (I used the pale underside for this), leaving at least a 1/2-inch border. Pile about 1/2 cup of the tabouli in the center and fold the sides over it, forming a loose roll. Eat. Repeat.