Friday, April 13, 2012

Tabbouleh and Greek Chicken

It's finally spring and that means lighter meals and grilled foods.  In this post two recipes are featured - one for a salad and one for grilled chicken - that are unusually versatile because they can be served at room temperature, which makes them perfect make-ahead dishes that would be great for a picnic, weeknight meal, or entertaining.

First let's talk about tabbouleh.  Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern salad traditionally made of bulgur, tomato, finely chopped parsley and mint, often including onion and garlic, seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.  It's pronounced tah-boo-lee  and may be spelled tabbouleh, tabouleh, tabbouli, or tabouli.  It's become enormously popular in the United States due to it's light and refreshing combination of tastes.  It's one of my favorite salads to accompany grilled food.

I was first introduced to tabbouleh by my friend Patti, who brought it to a picnic at our house.  Her husband Peter wouldn't touch it, probably because it had vegetables in it.  In Peter's defense, he's English.  He probably grew up on boiled beef and bangers. 

Anyway, bulgur is a dried wheat product with a fine grain.  You can typically find it in the rice section of your store, sold in a box under the Near East brand called "Taboule Mix Wheat Salad" (OK, there's another spelling variation).  Just use the bulgur in the box and throw away the spice packet for this recipe.  I also found bulgur in a clear plastic container in the baking aisle of my store, and in the bulk foods section.  If all else fails, head to a natural food store or co-op.

Bulgur reminds me of couscous in texture and cooking method - you just throw it in some boiling water for a few minutes until softened.

Although bulgur is a key ingredient, there are fresh ingredients that are equally key - cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, parsley and mint.  You might be surprised by the amount of parsley in tabbouleh.  It's not a garnish, it's actually one of the top ingredients by volume.  Check out the relative amounts of each ingredient below. 

The recipe calls for two cups of finely chopped parsley, which is actually about two whole bunches of flat leaf parsley.  Measure the parsley after chopping, not before.  Have you ever wondered about that in recipes?  Here's the difference:

"2 cups of finely chopped parsley" = chop first, measure second
"2 cups of parsley, finely chopped" = measure first, chop second

If you can't find good quality tomatoes, use chopped cherry tomatoes instead.  Don't use canned tomatoes for this recipe because they're too soft and watery. As I mentioned, this is a great salad for picnics or pot lucks because the dressing is olive oil based, not mayonnaise based.

OK, on to Greek Chicken.  I used boneless skinless chicken breasts but you can use any type of chicken pieces you prefer.  They're marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon, and oregano overnight and grilled until beautiful.

They can be served hot, cold, or at room temperature.  Leftovers would make amazing pita sandwiches with a little of the tabbouleh, some lettuce, and a drizzle of cucumber dressing.

* * click here for a printable Tabbouleh recipe * *

Serves 6

1 cup bulgur wheat
1 ½ cups boiling water
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced (about 2 cups)
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced (about two cups)
½ cup diced red onion
2 cups finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ t salt and ½ t pepper

Place the bulgur in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over it, stir and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let sit for 15 minutes until the water is absorbed and the bulgur is tender. Drain any excess water from the bulgur. Stir in the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, parsley, and mint.

In a small bowl, whisk the oil, lemon juice, zest, cumin, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well to combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour or more. Taste and adjust seasoning before serving. Serve cold or at room temperature.

* * click here for a printable Greek Chicken recipe * *

Greek Chicken
Serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or other chicken pieces to serve 4)
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
Juice of 1 large lemon
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons crumbled oregano

Trim chicken and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Combine the remaining ingredients in a gallon zip top bag and add the chicken pieces. Seal and shake to coat all pieces well. Refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight (preferable for best flavor).

Heat a grill over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and grill, turning and basting with the marinade, until the chicken is cooked through (about 5 minutes per side). Serve garnished with lemon wedges.

May be served hot, cold, or at room temperature.

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