Winter Tabbouleh

The first time I ate a bowl of tabbouleh, it was prepared with parsley and couscous, in a ratio of 10:1. My mouth was confused. How could anyone find this amount of parsley in one dish enjoyable? I chalked it up to cultural preferences in taste and put tabbouleh (firmly) on the list of foods I do not enjoy. Now, as part of a continual effort to try new things and expand my culinary palate, I decided to give it another try. This time, the couscous and parsley were in perfect balance, and for a moment, I felt a bit of regret for dismissing this dish for as long as I did. But I try to live by the motto 'have no regrets', so I just made up for lost time by eating as much of it as I could.

Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern dish, traditionally made with bulgar, tomatoes, cucumber, chopped parsley and mint, onions, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Often times, tabbouleh is quite heavy on the parsley and mint (especially in Lebanon ), but it is important to note that there are quite a few variations on this dish, and if you prepare it from scratch, you have the authority to make it whichever way you please.  I prefer the ratio of parsley and couscous 1:4. Just enough parsley to provide a wonderful citrusy flavor and some beautiful color, but not so much that it becomes overpowering or the main focus of the dish.

'Tis the season for wintery foods - carrots, pomegranates, eggplant, potatoes, and squash - and these days, I am all about taking a wintery spin on my meals, adding roasted veggies where I can. The transformation that takes place when a vegetable is roasted is truly magical. Carrots become a whole new being, sweet and caramelized. Hard to imagine it's the same vegetable compared to its raw form.

Eggplant is one of those funny vegetables that, when prepared correctly, is soft and buttery and the most amazing thing ever.  Unfortunately, we're often left sorting through the bin of old tough eggplant that are really quite difficult to prepare in any sort of spectacular way (unless you mean smothering them in cheese and tomato sauce, and then I say 'yes', you can make almost anything taste good when you smoother it in cheese and tomato sauce). I did have to succumb to purchasing a old tough eggplant for this dish, so if you can get your hands on some small Chinese eggplants, or just some fresh ones, I envy you.

I love preparing 'big batch' meals that I can store in the fridge and pull out for lunch at a later time. This dish falls into the category of a wonderfully satisfying, nutritious and flavorful meal. I have taken some of the traditional tabbouleh flavors and combined them with a few seasonally appropriate ones of my own. I'd be hard-pressed to find a decent tomato this time of year, so it only seemed natural to put the traditional version on the back burner until next summer.  I think you'll be quite pleased with the warm comforting properties of this meal. The pomegranate seeds add a subtle sweetness and crunch, while the couscous is soft and delicate. The carrots and eggplant act as little pockets of flavor. I am pretty fond of this dish and really excited for you to give it a try. Happy wintering!



serves 5 as a main 

notes: It is preferable to buy small Chinese eggplants or fresh ones, as their skin is soft and tender. It is often hard to find this type, and much easier to find the larger dark purple ones, which also tend to be a bit older. The larger and older the eggplant, the tougher the skin, and more bitter the flesh. To counteract this, a method called 'degorging' is used, where a generous layer of salt is placed on the sliced eggplant and then allowed to sit to draw out the bitter flavors. This results in a less bitter eggplant, and helps to hold its shape while cooking, preventing it from becoming soggy. Unfortunately, this leaves the eggplant a bit salty, despite attempts at washing away all of the salt. Keep this in mind when salting your food/dish. 

1 medium eggplant

1/2 tbsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil

small bunch of carrots

1/2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp sumac

2 cups vegetable broth

2 cups dry couscous

1 cup chopped parsley

1/2 cup chopped mint

1 1/2 cups of pomegranate seeds (1/2 large pomegranate)

1 lemon

olive oil to taste

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup chopped pistachios

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Cut the eggplant into cubes, and sprinkle with 1/2 tbsp of salt. Place into a colander and let sit for 1/2 hour. While the eggplant it resting, wash the carrots and remove the stems. Rub with 1/2 tbsp of olive oil and 1/2 tsp of sumac. Place onto a baking tray and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and soft.

While the carrots are baking, add two cups of boiling stock to the dry couscous and stir. Cover the bowl with a lid or plate, and let it sit covered until you are ready to prepare the dish.

Add a tbsp of olive to a frying pan, and heat on medium. Wash the salt from the eggplant and squeeze dry with a cloth. Fry the eggplant in oil until light brown and soft.

Remove the lid from the couscous and fluff it with a fork. Add it to a large bowl with the chopped parsley, chopped mint, and pomegranate seeds.

Once the carrots have cooked, chop the into bite sized pieces and add to the couscous along with the cooked eggplant. Add the juice from one lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chopped pistachios as a garnish. Can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.