Monday, April 24, 2017

Tabbouleh with Za'atar Tonir Lavash

     A Classic Refreshing Arabic Parsley and Bulgur Wheat Mezze!
     Over 500 years ago, minced herb salads became popular in Arabic cuisine.  Tabbouleh originated in Syria and Lebanon.  This region is one of the original wheat cultivation regions in history and many well known wheat grass strains were developed in this area in ancient times and Bulgur is one of the earliest wheat products ever made.  Parsley has been used extensively in local Middle East cuisines since ancient times too.  It was a natural for Syrians to combine parsley and Bulgur Wheat to create Tabbouleh and it turned out to be one of the greatest salads of them all.
     Many chefs and diners do not completely understand the importance of parsley in a gastronomical sense.  Parsley acts as a mellowing or toning agent in sauces, soups and chilled food items.  One might say that parsley is capable of creating a little bit of extra space between peak flavors and parsley can unite different flavors as well.  Parsley also helps to mellow intense flavors, so they do not overpower the tasting palate.  
     Part of gastronomy is understanding the medicinal effects of food and parsley offers many benefits.  Parsley is a well known natural breath freshener, because it has a high chlorophyl content.  Parsley also helps to alleviate digestive problems associated with protein rich diets and this herb helps to alleviate gout symptoms.  Parsley is a mild anti carcinogen and it actually fights tumor growth.  Parsley is has antioxidant qualities an it is a source of several beneficial micronutrients.  The medicinal benefits of parsley are stronger when parsley is consumed fresh, but the effects do not diminish significantly when parsley is cooked.  
     There are several varieties of parsley and some taste stronger than others.  Curly Leaf Parsley is very mild tasting and it is most often used as a garnish, but it can also be used in recipes that do not require a strong parsley flavor.  Italian Parsley is a bit stronger tasting and it is used extensively cuisines worldwide.  Dark Flat Leaf Italian Parsley is strong tasting and it is most often used for flavoring sauces.
     Bulgur is wheat kernels that are par boiled, then dried and cracked.  Usually only a small portion of the bran is removed when making Bulgur, so Bulgur is a good source of fibrous carbohydrates.  Durham Wheat is the most popular for making Bulgur and several other well known wheat varietals are used to make Bulgur too.  Public interest in lesser known ancient wheat grass strains has also opened the door for making ancient styles of Bulgur in modern times.
     High quality Bulgur is uniform in size and the size is measured with a numerical scale, so it is easy to find a Bulgur size that best suits a particular recipe.  Bulgur can be soaked till it becomes tender or it can be boiled till it becomes tender.  Bulgar has a nice light nutty flavor, which increases when the Bulgur is sautéed or roasted.  Pilaf was originally made with Bulgur, not rice and the start of a Pilaf involves sautéing the grain to increase the nutty flavor.  When added to a salad like Tabbouleh, the nutty flavor of the wheat reacts with parsley in an interesting way.
     My step grandfather was a great Syrian Lebanese chef.  He used a nifty technique when making Tabbouleh and similar salads.  Most people combine the salad dressing ingredients ahead of time, then add the dressing to the Tabbouleh.  Instead of combining the dressing ingredients ahead of time, he added each individual salad dressing ingredient while gently tossing the Tabbouleh.  This technique produced a noticeably brighter flavor profile.

      Jordan Za'atar Tonir Lavash:
      This recipe yields 2 portions. 
      Tonir Lavash was the first ancient lavash recipe.  Tonir Lavash is made with whole grain wheat.  Tonir Lavash can be purchased at Mediterranean food markets.  Making fresh Tonir Lavash is an option too.  To make Tonir Lavash at home, you will need a hot stone slab in the oven.  
     Za'atar Spice mix varies from family to family and from region to region.  It is much more economical to purchase a container of Za'atar at a Mediterranean food market than to purchase the spices separately.  The Za'atar Spice blend for today's recipe came from the country of Jordan.  Jordan Za'atar has a high proportion of Wild Thyme in the mixture, which creates an interesting flavor.
     Step 1:  Select 1 or 2 large rectangle sheets of fresh Tonir Lavash Bread.  (Tonir Lavash is usually shaped as 10" x 12" to 14" sheets.)
     Cut the Tonir Lavash into 6 large long triangle shapes.
     Step 2:  Place the Tonir Lavash triangles side by side on a sheet pan.
     Brush the tops with virgin olive oil.
     Sprinkle a generous amount of Jordanian Za'atar Spice mixture on the bread.
     Use your finger tips to gently rub the spice with the olive oil onto the bread, so the spice does not remain dry.
     Step 3:  Place the sheet pan in a 350ºF oven.
     Bake till the Tonir Lavash is crisp.  (This only takes a few minutes.)
     Keep the Jordan Za'atar Tonir Lavash warm on a stove top.

     This recipe yields about 2 1/3 cups.  (Enough for 2 guests to share.)
     Step 1:  Place 1/4 cup of medium size Bulgur Wheat in a small sauce pot.
     Add just enough water to barely cover the bulgar.
     Place the pot over low heat.
     Gently simmer the bulgar till it is tender, yet slightly al dente.  Add water as necessary.
     *Only add enough water to keep the Bulgur moist as it simmers!  The idea is to not dilute or leach out the natural nutty flavor.  When the bulgar is close to becoming tender, do not replenish the water.  Allow the bulgar to soak up the last of the water in the pot, so no flavor is lost.
     Step 2:  Drain off any excess water.
     Set the Bulgur aside to cool.
     Chill the Bulgur to 41ºF in a refrigerator.
     Step 3:  Finely chop 1 bunch of Italian Parsley.  (Enough for about 1 1/3 cups.)
     Step 4:  Place the chopped parsley in a mixing bowl.
     Add the prepared Bulgur.
     Add 3 tablespoons of small chopped fresh mint. 
     Add 2 tablespoons of small chopped seeded Plum Tomato.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of finely chopped Bermuda Onion.
     Add 1 tablespoon of a finely chopped green onion.
     Step 5:  Add 1/4 teaspoon of dried Sumac Berry Spice.
     Add 2 pinches of Kosher Salt.
     Add 1 pinch of black pepper.
     Toss the ingredients together.
     Step 6:  Add 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice while gently tossing the salad ingredients.
     Add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil while gently tossing the salad ingredients.  (Just add enough oil to barely coat the ingredients with flavor.)
     Serve the Tabbouleh immediately, while the flavors are crisp.
     *This salad cannot be made ahead of time and it should not be chilled, because it will wilt!
     Tabbouleh with Za'atar Tonir Lavash:
     This recipe yields 1 Mezze Platter that can be shared by 2 guests.
     Step 1:  Place the Tabbouleh in serving bowl.
     Garnish with Italian Parsley sprigs.
     Garnish with sliced Persian Preserved Lemon.
     Step 2:  Place the bowl of Tabbouleh on the center of a large oval serving platter.
     Arrange 3 Jordan Za'atar Tonir Lavash triangles on each end of the platter.

     Refreshingly and healthy!  Tabbouleh is one of the tastiest salads that there is and the Jordan Za'atar Tonir Lavash add even more classic flavor!

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