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Quick and Easy Quinoa Tabouli

by | Jul 1, 2021 | Recipes

Highlighting the lemon and parsley of classic tabouli, my Quinoa Tabouli swaps quinoa for the more traditional bulgur wheat. This Quick and Easy Quinoa Tabouli is a cooling grain salad that is perfect for the heat of Summer. It’s light, bright, and fresh dish that goes well with grilled meats like lamb, chicken, and beef.

Close up of quinoa tabouli piled high in a serving bowl

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While working at my first job out of college, a co-worker took me to a little Mediterranean spot called Jerusalem Café. The café was run by a super sweet pair of brothers whose family had immigrated from Israel to the Pacific Northwest back in the mid-1990s. It was the first time I’d ever tried food from Israel and the surrounding area, so I didn’t know what to expect. The younger brother, whose name escapes me, was a perfect culinary tour guide of their menu. It all sounded wonderful and so I asked for his recommendations on what dishes I should try for my first outing. One of them was Tabouli, and I was absolutely hooked from the first bite!

The tabouli at their café was so bright and herb-forward. At the time, I was living paycheck to paycheck, so eating out was a luxury. But their food was so damn good, especially the tabouli, that I couldn’t help myself and would stop in 2-3 times per month to grab a meal to split for lunch and dinner. After a while, I found myself scouring the internet to find out how to make tabouli (sometimes spelled as tabbouleh) at home.

Quick & Easy Quinoa Tabouli

I found a lot of tasty recipes, but none of them nailed how it was made at the café. I’ve learned over the years that recipes are really just baselines the majority of the time. So, I started playing around with proportions until I got it super close to how I remembered the café’s version as tasting.

One of the main ingredients in a traditional tabouli is bulgur wheat. Bulgur wheat is essentially wheat berries that have been cracked broken down into fine or coarse grains. The grains are then parboiled before being packaged to sell to folks like you and me. Bulgar was super easy to find when I lived in the Pacific Northwest and had access to lots of places that sold rice and grains in bulk. But once I moved to Northern Virginia, finding bulgur wheat became a bit trickier for me unless I purchased it online.

Why I Swapped Quinoa for Bulgur Wheat

Once I moved to Brooklyn, oh boy! By now, finding bulgur in my lil neck of Brooklyn was seemingly impossible and so purchasing online was the only option. That is until, I fell in love with adding quinoa to my salads. Naturally, I started experimenting with how I could replace bulgur with quinoa since quinoa is much more readily available. Eventually I settled on the version you see here. It balances the nuttiness of the quinoa with the rich olive oil and sharp acidity of fresh lemon juice in a way very similar to the café’s.

Quinoa tabouli with place setting and side of dressing

Why I Prefer to Dress this Quinoa Tabouli Lightly

I like to lightly dress this dish prior to serving, and serve the remainder of the dressing alongside the salad. This approach serves two objectives. First, I create the baseline of how the salad is dressed and whomever I’m serving is able to increase the amount if they desire. Better to have not enough and be able to add more than to have too much and not be able to take away.

Second, when the salad is lightly dressed instead of fully dressed it survives better and longer as leftovers in the refrigerator. If you fully dress the salad and store the leftovers in the fridge, the acid in the lemon and tomatoes break down the cucumber within a day or so. This causes the cucumber to release its water content. More moisture in your container, plus the acid equals mushy grains by around day three after making the salad. By lightly dressing the salad from the start, I’m usually able to extend the life of the leftovers to double that amount of time.

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Ingredients For Quick & Easy Quinoa Tabouli

  • Grape or Cherry Tomatoes – I prefer cherry or grape tomatoes because they’re already bite-sized and they look really pretty when sliced in half.
  • English Cucumber – I prefer to use English cucumbers because they have little to no seeds.
  • Quinoa – Any color will do, though I think tri-color quinoa looks the prettiest and most appetizing in this tabouli.
  • Parsley – Parsley is super important to this dish for the bright, grassy element to tabouli.
  • Green Onions – Sorry onion haters, you can’t leave onion out of the flavor profile of this dish. Thankfully, we’re using green onions (also called “scallions”) which have a much milder onion flavor.
  • Lemon Juice – Lemon juice brings the acidity to this dish and makes the dressing for this salad really shine.
  • Olive Oil – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, what makes a “good” olive oil is different from person to person. Use one that YOU like
  • Kosher Salt – Salt is absolutely critical to this dish to bring out the best of every flavor in the profile. I always start off with a little, taste the dish, and then add more to taste as needed. This helps to ensure that I don’t oversalt the dish.
  • Black Pepper – Some folks use pepper in their tabouli and some don’t. I’m obviously in the do camp. Give it a try on your first whirl with this recipe and if you don’t dig it, then leave it out next time. Remember, recipes are basically just baselines.
  • Garlic Powder – Garlic isn’t a common/traditional addition to tabouli, but I personally like it in mine. Just like with the pepper, try it and see if you like it, and then leave it out next time if you don’t.

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Closeup of quick and easy quinoa tabouli in a serving bowl

Ingredient Swaps & Variations

  • Regular Cucumber – Regular cucumbers work just as well as the English variety, but be sure to removing the majority of the seeds before adding to your salad.
  • Shallot – No green onions on hand? No worries, try swapping for two small to medium sized shallots (minced) if you’ve got them.
  • Sweet Onion – Another option if you don’t have any green onions on hand would be a sweet onion. I’d recommend finely dicing two 1/4-inch thick slices of onion.
  • Lemon Concentrate – I will always advocate for using fresh lemon juice in recipes. But life happens and sometimes you just have the bottled stuff. In a pinch, the lemon juice you get in a bottle can make do.
  • Lime Juice – No fresh lemon or lemon concentrate on hand? No problem! Swap it out for fresh lime juice or lime concentrate. It will definitely give you a slightly different flavor, but is equally as delicious.

Recipe Tips & Tricks

What to Remember – Less is more. When adding salt to your dish, remember to taste after each addition to ensure you’ve got the saltiness right for your preferences. Also, less is more when it comes to dressing this delicate salad. Dress lightly before serving and serve the remaining dressing alongside the salad to allow guests to adjust the dressing to their preferred tastes.

What to Avoid – Avoid mushy veggies by choosing ripe but firm tomatoes and cucumbers for this quinoa tabouli. Also, avoid over-salting the dish, which could bring additional water out from the veggies making your tomatoes and cucumbers mushy and your tabouli watery.

Ways to Use Quick & Easy Quinoa Tabouli Leftovers – I love transforming leftovers of this tabouli into a grain salad. Typically, I dice up a pan-seared chicken breast and add it to a bed of mixed greens. Then, I top that with leftover tabouli, sprinkle in a little crumbled feta cheese, and drizzle some of the remaining dressing over the salad. It’s fast, filling, and deliciously easy. This also is a great meal prep option since everything will stay fresh for a few days.

Recipe Notes

Storage – Store leftover quinoa tabouli in an airtight glass or plastic container in the fridge. If lightly dressed and stored properly, the salad will last for 5-7 days.

Serving Size – One serving of this Quick & Easy Quinoa Tabouli is 1/2 cup.

Servings & Nutrition – This recipe makes 8 servings. Each serving has approximately 62 calories, 4 g of carbohydrates, 1 g of protein, 5 g of fat, and 1 g of sugar. For the full recipe and additional nutritional information, please see the recipe card below.

Macro shot of quinoa tabouli

How to Make Quick & Easy Quinoa Tabouli

Step 1. Add 1/3 cup of quinoa to a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cool water. Shake off excess water and then add quinoa to a medium pot. Add 2/3 cup of to the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue boiling the quinoa until it has absorbed all of the water (approximately 10-15 minutes). Remove the pot from the burner and cover the pot with a lid. Let the quinoa sit for 5 minutes and then fluff with a fork.

Step 2. Wash your cherry or grape tomatoes and then cut each tomato in half lengthwise. Add to a large mixing bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the skin from the cucumber if you wish (I typically leave mine on as I like the deep green color for presentation when serving). Cut the cucumber into quarters lengthwise. Then cut each quarter crosswise into a ¼-inch to ½ inch dice. Add your diced cucumber to the mixing bowl with the tomatoes.

Step 3. Rinse one medium to large sized bunch of parsley under cool water and pat dry. Then cut the bottom third of the stems off of the parsley and discard the stems. Roll the bunch into a tight bundle and then thinly slice with your knife. Position your knife perpendicular to the slices you just cut and thinly slice the parsley again to create a fine chop.

Step 4. Rinse your green onions under cool water and pat dry. Then cut the top quarter of the green tops of the onions off and discard the tops. Next, cut off the bottom 1/8-inch to ¼ inch of the whites off (the root end) and discard. Now, cut the remaining green tops of the onion off and set aside. Thinly slice the onions and add them to the mixing bowl.

Step 5. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to a small bowl and whisk together to combine. Taste the dressing and add more salt to taste if needed.

Step 6. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the dressing over your veggie mixture and set the remaining dressing aside. Add your cooked quinoa to the large mixing bowl. Stir to thoroughly combine, ensuring that the quinoa is evenly coated with the dressing. Taste the tabouli and add more of the reserved dressing to your taste if desired. Otherwise, serve the Quinoa Tabouli with the remainder of the dressing on the side.

Closeup of quinoa tabouli served in bowl with dressing in a separate bowl on the side

If you make this recipe, tag me in your photos on Instagram—I love seeing what you guys decided to make!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use slicing tomatoes instead of cherry or grape tomatoes?

Absolutely. You could swap out the cherry or grape tomatoes for 1-2 slicing tomatoes or 2-4 Roma/plum tomatoes cut into a ¼-inch to ½-inch dice if you prefer.

I don’t have any garlic powder. Can I use fresh garlic instead?

Fresh garlic is much too pungent for this dish, so I opt for garlic powder and only use it to taste.

Should I use curly parsley or flat leaf parsley?

Personally, I prefer curly parsley for this dish. I feel like it gives a bit more of a grassy, slightly bitter flavor than flat leaf parsley (especially when used in such a large quantity). In this Quinoa Tabouli, that flavor is a definite bonus. However, if all you have on hand is flat leaf parsley that’s totally fine.

Other Recipes You May Enjoy

Close up of quinoa tabouli piled high in a serving bowl

Quick & Easy Quinoa Tabouli

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

This Quick and Easy Quinoa Tabouli is a cooling grain salad that is perfect for the heat of Summer. It’s light, bright, and fresh dish that goes well with grilled meats like lamb, chicken, and beef.

Ingredients

  • 1 package grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 medium cucumber, seeded and diced
  • 5 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt, more to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Garlic powder, to taste
  • 1/3 cup quinoa
  • 2/3 cup water

Instructions

1. Add the quinoa and water to a small pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water. This should take approximately 10-15 minutes.

2. Remove the pot from the burner and cover with a lid. Let the quinoa sit for 5 minutes and then fluff with a fork.

3. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and add to a large mixing bowl.

4. Remove the seeds from the cucumber. Dice the cucumber and add to the mixing bowl.

5. Remove the bottom portion of the parsley stems and discard. Finely chop the parsley and add to the mixing bowl.

6. Remove the root ends of the onions along with the top quarter of the green tops of the onions and discard. Thinly slice the remaining portion of the onions and add to the mixing bowl.

7. In a small bowl, add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, a pinch of black pepper, and two pinches of garlic powder. Whisk together to emulsify the mixture and create the dressing. Adjust black pepper, salt, and garlic powder to taste.

8. Add 2 tbsp of the dressing to the vegetable mixture, reserving the remaining dressing.

9. Add the quinoa to the vegetable mixture and stir until the quinoa is evenly coated with the dressing.

10. Serve the Quinoa Tabouli with the remaining dressing served alongside the salad.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 62Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 44mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 1g

This nutrition data is provided and calculated by Nutritionix. Please keep in mind that your specific nutritional values may vary based on the brand of ingredients you use to make this recipe.

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Hey there! I’m Krystal, the sassy-mouthed, self-taught, home cook behind the content here at Sweet, Savory & Sassy. I have a deep love for sharing food with people and showing folks just how easy it really is to make dishes that will bring a little extra joy to those you love. There’s nothing like making something special for friends and family and seeing their face light up in delight during that first bite!
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