Tabbouleh Recipe: An Attest to My Childhood and Middle Eastern Cuisine
Do you ever have those times you spend with people and you walk away with this all knowing grin that it was a time of pure bliss because of the genuine interaction and experience? That was me this past weekend when I gathered with new friends to make traditional Arabic dishes.
Before I called them “friends,” I would have just referred to them as “the international students I met while at work,” but I am so glad that is not the case. One is from Saudi Arabia and the other from Kuwait, filled with genuine smiles, kindness, patience, adventures, and sound conversations.
The definition of cultural exchange is a program that connects students and individuals to live and work with each other for a period of time to promote an understanding of different cultures. This was a different type of cultural exchange – one where you don’t have to live or work with someone to uncover cultural expectations. We are able to make these types of discoveries right outside our homes if we open up to the people surrounding us – they aren’t that different from the ones you find across the world.
For me, it turned out to be more, it was a reliving of my past with loved ones who are no longer around.
My Great Auntie Dee would make my alllll time favorite dish of tabbouleh (recipe below) anytime she got the chance. Trust me, I’d make sure I was at every family get-together for this reason. I can distinctly remember the times I popped in and found her sitting at the dining room table, hands covered in parsley, ingredients all over the table, and the fine lemon mist in the air. She’d even try to teach me some Arabic while I was there (fun fact: my great grandparents are from Lebanon!). Back then, around the age of 10 and younger, I didn’t know the true meaning of this experience until it was gone. After a rough passing from bone marrow cancer, Auntie Dee was no longer around to continue this Lebanese tradition. Even though it may not seem like much to others, this is one of the many talents I saw in a woman who was so caring and daring. I rave about tabbouleh any and every chance that I get. She would spend hours on end making it to perfection and to this day I have not tasted tabbouleh that has lived up to Auntie Dee’s. Must have been that secret ingredient everyone talks about: love. But, tonight was a strong second.
In the midst of Tabbouleh making, my lovely hosts treated me and my friend to a traditional dish originating from Saudi Arabia called Kabsa. I COULD EAT THIS DAILY. Coming into the night, we were just expecting to make tabbouleh and share a good conversation around the table, but got a whole dinner served to us, were taught some Arabic dances performed at parties and weddings, downed Arabic coffee (which I need to find a way to order in the states ASAP), and inhaled a decadent dessert; we even taught them good ol’ country line dancing and aired the classic: Pirates of the Caribbean. I was even able to pick their brains about the Muslim religion regarding an email I was sent, with an open mind, deep explanation, and total understanding to my interest.
Ingredients (about 12 servings)
- 1 cup fine bulgur or couscous
- 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 cup fresh mint – chopped finely
- 4 cups fresh parsley – chopped finely
- 3 tomatoes – 1/4 inch chopped
- A whole lot of lemon juice! (usually 1-2 full lemons) – depends on your personal taste.
- Dashes of salt and pepper
- Small handful of finely chopped scallions or red onions
- Cook bulgur/couscous according to box directions.
- In a large bowl, mix together parsley, mint, onions/scallions, and tomatoes.
- Add bulgur/couscous to the bowl, along with a few tablespoons of olive oil and blend generously. You want to make sure that the bulgur/couscous is spread evenly throughout the ingredients. The bulgur/couscous is not meant to be the main ingredient of tabbouleh. So don’t overdo it!
- Squeeze your desired amount of fresh lemon juice into the bowl (taste as you go!) and thoroughly mix.
- Top off with a few dashes of salt and pepper.
- Don’t forget, the best tabbouleh you will ever have will only achieve a standard so high, only if it is made with love.
This night was more than what I could have asked for. This type of exchange and generosity is not something we find often when interacting with everyday people – I find it increasingly difficult in a college society that focuses on frats and sororities, gossiping, and is work focused.There is so much more depth and meaning to the interaction and outcome than sitting, gossiping about coworkers, and making drunk fools of each other.
I’m trying to make every day a day of cultural exchange.
In a world that is continuously growing in ways of international globalization (Facebook, travel pages, businesses, web meetings, social media, etc.) it’s easy to forget that we can find this type of cultural exchange all around us. All it takes is that simple act of sharing a smile, asking about someone’s background instead of job or major, and sharing your story. You never know how much you have in common with someone and how their differences can teach you something until you try it.
We don’t always have to travel across the world to get this feeling, it’s right at your doorstep; you just have to be willing to open the door
Leave a comment below on a favorite cultural exchange you’ve experienced!