But tabbouleh shouldn’t have cucumber!
Before I jump right into tabbouleh, let me start with some background on the mezze culture.
“The word Mezze – otherwise known as Muqabilat – is in essence a selection of small dishes served as starters to tickle your taste buds and kick start your appetite. The Mezze culture is that of relaxed food, where people get together and enjoy a variety of dishes (with or without alcohol) in a casual and laid-back atmosphere, all while being social and interacting with friends. The most significant characteristic about Mezze is that it is food to be shared with a group, and not meant to be ordered by plate for each individual. In the Middle East, you would get a variety of dishes that are placed in the middle of the dining table, from which each one takes out into their plates.
Mezze includes hot and cold varieties. It is served as the first course of the meal, usually followed by mixed grills, or other Main course options, then followed by Arabic desserts and fresh fruits. With that said, Mezze can often be a meal on its own! I, for instance, hardly ever want to eat anything else!
Culturally, Mezze is good food, good company and a superb time. It captures the essence of the social culture and how food is at it’s centre.”
So, I was sitting with a friend the other day, and had made us a little brunch to munch on as we chat. One of the things I had prepared is of course tabbouleh, I just love it and all that parsley is amazing for blood circulation, which means while we nibble and enjoy we are also detoxing, and pumping life through all our veins. She then noted: “why do you have cucumber in your tabbouleh? Tabbouleh shouldn’t have cucumbers!”. This is a comment that is very common. There is nothing wrong with that, I hear it all the time. Being Lebanese, she would prepare tabbouleh without the addition of any vegetables except the tomatoes and onions; however, the Palestinian Tabbouleh includes cucumbers and some would also add assorted finely chopped capsicums to the mix too. Many of my Palestinian friends tell me they hear the same comment. It is because while tabbouleh is tabbouleh, essentially very finely chopped parsley with tomatoes and onions, different countries or areas have their own additions to tabbouleh that make it unique to that area. The North African immigrants in Falasteen for instance added couscous instead of bulgur to their tabbouleh. And my grandmother once told me that some areas used barley in the making of tabbouleh “whatever grain was available” she said. You know, they ate seasonal, and had limited storage back in the day, as such if they ran out of bulgar, they would have reached out to “whatever grain was available”.
With that said, different times and access to ingredients allowed us to stretch the concept a little bit. Nowadays, we make tabbouleh with Quinoa, because it is a superfood and we currently want to include it in everything we eat for its nutritional value. We also add avocados to tabbouleh (yes don’t gasp, it is done!). Now authentic classic tabbouleh, remains the authentic classic tabbouleh, these modern preparations are good varieties, and allow us to keep evolving, changing and keeping us interested instead of only repetition. The only issue will be is calling it “classic/traditional tabbouleh” as that would be inaccurate and in the long run will be misinforming. I see that done around the world a lot, where a classic concept is twisted and changed yet labeled as classic and traditional. At times it’s out of ignorance to the actual classic dish, other times is out of wanting to change. There is nothing wrong with change, adaptation, and fusions and twists. But they should always be known as such. One of the most challenging issues in tracing the history of foods, and finding origins, happens because of such incidents, where it’s not accurate or clearly labeled.
You might think everybody knows tabbouleh so what is she going on about! Yes we do know, less than we did before and perhaps almost non-existent in 1000 years! Why don’t we make it easier for those to follow to trace back the foods we are eating today and the trends and changes we are embracing. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Wouldn’t that be minimising waste?