Taboulé reminds us of summer in France. We eat it everywhere, it is a nice refreshing salad to accompany grilled meats, charcuterie or even a collection of other salads… Francis and I even had it at our wedding! Provence always inspires me to make Taboulé so I usually make it for guests on our Live Like a Local in Provence Sojourn.
As you can see in the picture, French taboulé is completely different from American tabouleh. The French version has a wink of colonial legacy and uses North African ingredients, notably mint and the pasta-like grains called couscous; by contrast, the American version has a Middle Eastern influence and uses bulgur wheat and parsley. The French version is surprisingly light and refreshing compared to it’s heartier American cousin.
After I married Francis, part of my informal indoctrination into my new French family was learning to make taboulé. This is one of the important members of a battery of simple recipes that form an unofficial canon of quotidian French foods which are made from memory. These common recipes are passed from person to person orally and I felt honored when each member of the family chose to share their version of these recipes with me. The charming thing about these canonical recipes is that they are always incredibly simple yet each family member adds their own signature flourish. As I passed through the right of passage of learning the family recipes I was initially overwhelmed that everyone had a different version because everyone insisted their’s was the best. Gradually it dawned on me that each of them, like me, had probably been taught several “secret” recipes out of which evolved their signature style.
This is my signature version of taboulé. It grew out of family recipes and tricks I picked up from family friends over the past two decades. The things that make my taboulé unique are that I make it very citrusy and use large crunchy crystals of sea salt and a dusting of the North African spice blend called “ras el hanout”. (If you cannot buy ras el hanout in a store or market near you, you can find a recipe on epicurious here.)
NOTE: MAKE 24 HOURS IN ADVANCE
1 box of medium grain PLAIN couscous grains
3 lemons (juiced)
3 juicy beef-steak tomatoes (diced finely) or 5-6 roma tomatoes
3-5 TBS of olive oil
2 green peppers (diced finely)
1 bunch of mint (cut finely)
sea salt (to taste)
ras el hanout (to taste)
The day before you plan to serve the taboulé, mix together the uncooked couscous, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil. Stir well, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, several hours before serving check to make sure that the couscous is properly hydrated. The juiciness of the tomatoes and lemons varies so you’ll need to adjust accordingly. (You may need to add more oil, lemon juice or a dash of water to make sure the couscous softens. It often needs to be stirred again to evenly distribute the liquids. You want it firm and dry but soft and hydrated, be careful not to add too much liquid because it is terrible and unsalvageable if mushy and waterlogged.)
Shortly before serving mix in the mint, peppers, ras el hanout and salt.
Play with the recipe to come up with your own signature version! Variations include playing with the ratio of oil to lemon or adding garlic, cucumbers, cilantro, chives, terragon or lemon zest, using different kinds and colors of peppers…