|My pot of Mint|
Lebanese, because of their Phoenician heritage, love to migrate to other countries. Indeed, there are far more Lebanese outside of Lebanon than are currently living in the country. My own Grandparents arrived in the Caribbean in 1897 from a small mountain village in Lebanon. No matter which country they went to live, they preserved their culture, food, but unfortunately for many second generation Lebanese like myself, the language only lives on in the form of words for food, and a couple of swear words! What they did with their food was to adapt it in many ways to include local ingredients. One such adaptation in the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, was to include the Habanero or Scotch Bonnet Chili pepper in all their cooking. To people currently living in Lebanon, the addition of such a hot pepper would be unthinkable as they prefer to use ground Sumac to obtain the sourness, tartness and spicy taste necessary. Another adaptation was to use limes instead of lemons in the dishes, as lemons were not always available.
I have a pot of beautiful, fresh mint growing in my garden so I knew that a dish of Tabouleh would have to be made with it! Tabouleh, or Cracked Wheat Salad, has many variations in Lebanon, and other countries of the Levantine region. The mix of grains, spices and herbs vary between families, regions within Lebanon, and countries of the region, each proclaiming their version to be the “best”. The most serious insult one can offer a Levantine person would be to say that you do not like their Tabouleh!
This version is made with Quinoa, a grain from South America, and the seasonings I use are representative of the Caribbean version of the dish. I also make it with cracked wheat or Bulgur wheat. There are few measurements as the final product is solely dependent on individual taste. I do not use a food processor to chop the herbs and vegetables as it results in too much bruising of the leaves, and that makes the leaves develop a black color due to the damage. Instead I use a very sharp knife or cleaver, slicing through bunches of the herbs as thinly as possible. However, a food processor may be used to “pulse” chop the herbs quickly, resulting in minimal damage to the leaves.
¾ cup of cooked Quinoa (this is cooked like rice using twice as much water as the grain, brought to a boil then simmered for about 15 minutes until all the water has evaporated). I let it cool in the fridge before adding any of the herbs to it.
Sumac (The sumac bush is native to the Middle East. The berries are dried and ground into coarse powder. Sumac is a versatile spice with a mild but tangy lemony flavor. It is used in many other countries of the region, including Greece and Turkey)
½ Habanero pepper, deseeded, and finely minced
6 stalks of Green Onions or Scallions, thinly sliced (use green and white parts)
2 medium sized cucumbers, chopped into small cubes (deseeded if there are a lot of seeds. I tend to use the small Kirby or Persian cucumbers with fewer seeds)
3 Roma tomatoes, chopped into small cubes(I remove the pulp and seeds, using only the firm part)
Flat Leaf or Italian Parsely, Fresh Mint, (I wash the Parsley and Mint very carefully, using 2-3 changes of water. I then use only the Mint leaves, and the small tips of the Parsley, not the larger stems. There are no measurements for this. As a rough guide, I use 1/3 portion of mint to 2/3 of Parsley. This is to say twice as much Parsley to the quantity of mint). I also tend to make my Tabouleh more “Herbal” than “Grainy”. Other may prefer it with more grains than herbs)
75 mls Lemon Juice and Lime juice in equal proportions
25 mls Olive Oil
Mix together the cooled Quinoa, chopped, herbs, sliced green onions, minced Habanero pepper, and chopped tomatoes and cucumbers. This mixture is seasoned to taste with the salt, black pepper and allspice. Add the Lemon/Lime juice and Olive Oil dressing, and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle Sumac on top of the salad before serving.