Month of May: “Together: Our Community Cookbook” Recipe: Intlak Alsaiegh’s Tabbouleh

“Perhaps my best years are gone, when there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn’t want them back. Not with the fire in me now.” Samuel Beckett

Tabbouleh is a well known middle eastern salad made from tiny little pieces of bulgur wheat, parsley, scallions and mint with tomato, olives and cucumber added. In Arab cooking it is often offered on the table as something green.

Over this year in the solitude of my studio there has been an overarching mixture of putting little pieces together of my friendship with Abby, my memories of our lives and my own personal meaning of losing her. Honestly, after two years in, I don’t believe the grief will ever end. Time will not completely heal such a mammoth loss but the acute suffering has certainly lessened. The grief has not changed in size but I have grown around it.

For decades I worked alongside grieving families as a hospice nurse but nothing has taught me more about grief than my own raw personal experience with it. We all travel on this road in our own unique way, in our own time and for some, maybe not at all because the pain can be too agonizing to let in. There are no one size fits all answers that I once believed existed. I have learned to be more compassionate not only with myself but with others as well. We all have the right to follow our own feelings without a single drop of judgement. The way forward for me it seems is to be vigilantly aware and receptive to that very still inner self. To be present with the emotional roller coaster as much as I am able and possibly most importantly to be courageous enough to feel the feelings no matter how excruciating they might be to bear. Tears help too.

The question of what is it about Abby and our connection that stands miles apart from anyone else I have ever known and loved kept rising to the surface. What is it? What was so vastly different about her?? I suspect one answer might be that together and apart we were always seeking, always waiting for that elusive something or someone that could help bury our relentless unease. That shared manner of being bonded us in a way I never felt with anyone else. It was a mutual core identity that we didn’t have to explain because we could clearly understand it, ironically not in ourselves but in each other.

Only recently have I come to realize from Abby’s permanent absence, by some way of a miracle, that somehow I unwittingly tapped into that seeking source. It never was found in another person. It wasn’t in any adventure or far away place either. It wasn’t hiding under any personal achievement. What I discovered through all those valleys and all those mountaintops is what was with me all along. I needed to find me. I needed to listen to me. I needed to love me. And when that shift finally happened for real, after years of doing the hardcore emotional work, my restlessness was unexpectedly and surprisingly set aside. And as long as I remember it’s an inside job and keep my eyes on that prize, I get to come home, home to myself time and time again.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup bulgur wheat, 5 tbsp boiling water, 5 cups chopped parsley, 1/2 cup chopped mint, 2 scallions thinly sliced, 1/3 cucumber peeled, seeded and chopped, 1 cup cherry tomatoes chopped, 1/4 cup whole and 1/3 cup pitted green olives chopped. Dressing: 1/4 cup olive oil, juice of 1.5 lemons, 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper.

  1. Put the bulgur wheat in a bowl, add the boiling water and cover with a tight lid allowing to steam for 20 minutes.
  2. Make the dressing by mixing the oil, lemon juice and molasses with a pinch of salt and vinegar.
  3. Using a fork fluff up the bulgur wheat. Add all the ingredients together and add half the dressing, mix and taste, add remaining dressing if desired. Serve in a lovely dish or platter with whole tomatoes and olives on top.

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