Quinoa tabbouleh is a gluten free side dish that is packed with flavor! Quinoa is an excellent substitute for anyone who is sensitive to gluten or wheat. I have been making tabbouleh since the early 80s. My long time college boyfriend was part Lebanese and his mother gave me many of her wonderful recipes.
Since then, tabbouleh has always been one of my favorite Middle Eastern side dishes. (This post was originally published on October 8th, 2012. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commission on qualifying purchases.)
What is tabbouleh?
Tabbouleh is a traditional Lebanese or Syrian side dish or salad. Although it’s common to find it all over the Eastern Mediterranean, including Israel, Jordan, Palestine or Turkey. Each area will make theirs slightly differently. It’s made with fresh parsley, bulgur or cracked wheat, fresh tomatoes, green onions, fresh mint, and a simple dressing of lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. It’s usually served as part of a “mezze” or appetizers, like hummus, rather than on its own.
While I love the traditional version with bulgur wheat, when my daughter was younger and sensitive to wheat, I reworked many of my gluten filled recipes and made them gluten free. Cooked and chilled quinoa has a very similar texture to bulgur wheat, so it was a perfect substitution. Just one cup of cooked is about 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Quinoa is also a complete protein, and contains all nine essential amino acids.
Ingredients for quinoa tabbouleh
- Cooked quinoa. We’re substituting traditional bulgur wheat for cooked and chilled quinoa. You can also make more quinoa and use leftovers for this Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with artichokes, feta and olives.
- After quinoa, the most important ingredient is parsley. I’ve seen tabbouleh “kits” that have dried parsley and mint and it’s just not the same as fresh. Fresh parsley is available year-round in every grocery store. When I first started making tabbouleh 40+ years ago, there was one kind of parsley in the grocery store and that was curly leaf. I prefer Italian flat leaf parsley to curly for two reasons. First, it’s easier to clean and de-stem and second, I prefer the flavor. Curly leaf parsley is the most common parsley and has a milder flavor. Use whichever one you prefer.
- Mint. Don’t skip the fresh mint! It’s what gives tabbouleh that lovely fresh “Middle Eastern” flavor! Mint is another herb that’s commonly found in the produce section of any grocery store.
- Tomatoes. You can use use any type of tomato you’d like; juicy beefsteaks, exotic heirlooms, or jeweled cherry are all delicious. You’re going to chop them up anyway. In the summer when I have an abundance of tomatoes, this is one of my favorite ways to use them.
- Cucumber. I prefer the long, thin skinned hot house or English cucumbers, to the shorter, thick skinned variety. It’s not necessary to peel English cucumbers, and they have fewer seeds.
- Green onions. Slice them and use both the green and the white parts.
- Garlic. Depending on the size of your cloves, you can use more or less than the amount in the recipe.
- Olive oil. I have several types of olive oil. I save the best quality and fruitiest oils for something like a vinaigrette or this salad. When there are so few ingredients, quality and flavor really count.
- Lemon juice. You’ll definitely want to skip the bottled lemon juice and use a fresh lemon.
- Season to taste with salt and black pepper. I always hate giving exact measurements with seasoning. Everyone has a different idea of what the “perfect” amount of seasoning is. But I find most dishes that lack flavor usually just don’t have enough salt. I only use Redmond’s Real Salt for cooking and seasoning.
How to make quinoa tabbouleh
This is one of those recipes that is hard to write down. For many years I just made it and never measured anything. In fact I seriously doubt anyone making this dish is the Middle East follows a recipe. I’m giving you a general recipe, but if you prefer more (or less) parsley adjust it! Extra cucumbers? Throw them in! More mint or garlic? Why not? Make it your own. I like a nice balance of quinoa to parsley.
First cook and chill the quinoa. It’s also a good substitute for rice, so you can make a large batch and eat some with just butter and salt and chill the rest.
When I first learned how to make tabbouleh, I was in my early 20s and didn’t have a food processor. Mrs. “M” showed me how to stem and chop the parsley by hand. This is the traditional method. As I adapted it, I decided to use the food processor to chop the parsley. You still want to use just the leaves and not the stems. But boy, does the food processor make this task so much easier and faster!
Peel and seed the cucumbers and chop. Chop the tomatoes. Slice the green onions and mince the garlic. Toss all the veggies with the chilled quinoa then season with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
This salad tastes better if it’s had a chance to chill for a few hours and is even better the second day. It’s delicious as a side dish to Chicken Souvlakia.
- 3/4 cup quinoa
- 1 1/2 cup cold water
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley stems removed, chopped fine in a food processor or by hand
- 1 tomato diced
- 1 cucumber peeled and diced
- 6 fresh mint leaves finely chopped (or pop them in the food processor with the parsley)
- 2 green onions thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
- Rinse quinoa in cold water.
- bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Add quinoa.
- Reduce heat and cover. Cook 15-20 minutes or until quinoa is light and fluffy.
- Chill quinoa in fridge or at room temperature before tossing with remaining ingredients.
- In a large bowl, mix the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
- Add 2 cups of cooked, cooled quinoa, chopped, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes. Adjust seasoning. Chill until ready to serve.
- Makes 4 cups
- Use Italian or flat leaf parsley over curly parsley if you can find it.
- Hot house or English cucumbers have a thinner skin and fewer seeds than the thick skinned cucumbers and are preferable.
- Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.
Libby with Lemony Thyme says
What a beautiful trio of sides Cynthia. We haven’t given up wheat completely but we’re learning to welcome other grains. All three of these recipes sound wonderful.
Thanks Libby, you almost won’t miss wheat with these. We’re about 90% wheat free.
Oh I love tabbouleh, and the addition of the quinoa makes this so awesome! Filling and healthy.
Christina @ Christina's Cucina says
Looks beautiful, Cynthia! It’s great that you can change this AND make it even healthier at the same time!
Steph @ Steph in Thyme says
So healthy and refreshing, the perfect summer picnic side dish!
Anita Chu says
What a refreshing looking salad! I really like how you worked the quinoa into a familiar recipe!
Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence says
This looks fresh, fresh, fresh!! I’d love to have a scoop of this beside a grilled kebab.
Chef Mimi says
This is fabulous. I’ve never totally loved quinoa, but I’d like it in this dish with all of the other goodies! Great recipe.
thank you Mimi!