Saffas are a resilient bunch. It’s no wonder we have a reputation for being no-nonsense hard workers from Adelaide to Zurich. Still, it’s been a long, hard year, fraught with challenges — as I sit typing, my face illuminated by only the soft glow of my laptop screen and a flickering candle on the mantle. Swing around for a braai on any given Sunday, a chilled six-pack in the cooler box and the conversation will invariably be punctuated with an expletive, followed by how tired the person is and how much a break is needed. Thankfully, December is around the corner, and as we collectively get ready to stoke the braai fires and shake our heads with disapproval at the GP number plates that descend on Umhlanga and Camps Bay, I’m reminded why I love summer.
I love summer eating.
Fresh, zesty salads, chilled sauvignon blanc, served with a glass of ice on the side — no judgment here, you drink your wine however you damn well please. Over the past few years, I’ve been enamoured by Mediterranean cuisine. More specifically, Levantine cooking. The Levant is the geographical area that encompasses the countries of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Palestine and Turkey. Like most things in the region, this too is contestable. Ask some, and Egypt is included; others disagree most fervently. However, one thing that is not up for argument is that the region’s food is incredibly delicious and diverse. It’s the communal nature of dining that appeals to me. Why settle for one or two dishes when you can share multiple small plates called meze. Think rich, smooth hummus, laced with tahini and the slight zing of garlic, warm pillowy pita bread torn and used as utensils, fluffy toum — a garlic sauce made from emulsifying fresh garlic, lemon juice and oil, smoky baba ghanoush, spicy kebabs expertly skewered and cooked over blistering charcoal and my absolute favourite, tabbouleh.
There are many regional variations to tabbouleh (including the spelling of the word), but it is a salad made from parsley and bulgar wheat. A fresh, herby side dish to accompany grilled meat or poultry but can easily step up as a vegan-friendly main. Simple to make but layered in flavour. An absolute summer winner.
- 2 bunches of flat-leaf parsley
- ½ cup of mint leaves
- 3 ripe tomatoes
- 1 medium red onion
- 1 cucumber
- ½ cup of bulgar
- 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- Add the bulgar to a large bowl and cover with a cup and a half of boiling water. Cover and set aside for 20 minutes for the bulgar to soften and cool. It should double in size and volume. Traditionally fine bulgar is used but I've never been able to find it. If you do find it, you don’t need to soak in boiling water
- Next, finely chop the washed and dried parsley and mint. I use the stems from the parsley as they contain a ton of flavour and have less waste. Mint stems can sometimes be a bit woody, so use just the leaves. Add to a large salad bowl.
- Dice the red onion, tomatoes and cucumber and add to the bowl.
- Check that the bulgar is completely cool and that all the liquid has been absorbed. They should look plump and feel al dente when squeezed in between your fingers. Add to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl
- Finally, stir in lemon juice, olive oil and season with cumin, salt and pepper, combining all the ingredients thoroughly.
- Allow the tabbouleh to sit in the fridge for an hour or two for all the flavours to mingle and develop.