Pistachio and purslane ‘tabouli’ with grilled fish
A good salad has a kind of symbiosis – a beautiful combination of all things working together along with the contrast of each ingredient standing alone. This salad also plays a part in dressing other ingredients (such as grilled fish) so that everything remains vibrant and fresh. It’s much like the feeling we strive for over summer – one that we hold onto as the days shorten and the light grows softer. For balance in this recipe, I aim for twice as much herb as there is grain.
Although this isn’t a traditional representation of tabouli, I have found that most older references to it contain purslane. Purslane is an abundant leaf in Australia over summer, commonly found in rugged growing environments such as between bluestone pavers in cobbled pathways or growing prostrate in otherwise dry and arid hard-packed dirt. Purslane is one of my favourite standalone leaves. It has a flavour similar to peas but still some bitterness and sourness that elevates it beyond a garden-variety salad leaf. It is particularly delicious wok-fried or quickly rolled over a chargrill, as you may do with broccolini.
I have once before referenced the benefit of curly parsley for use in the classic parsley sauce. But for this recipe it comes into its own. The added structure of the curly parsley over continental parsley is imperative in holding up to the cracked wheat and the mint. Curly parsley also has a milder flavour that benefits the balance of this style of tabouli, and raises it beyond just being a condiment that accompanies dishes.
Commonly we use tomato in tabouli, but at this time of year a delicious tomato is hard to find. Green tomatoes can work but I like to use avocado. I love the richness that the avocado and pistachio brings to this salad. It’s the aesthetic of multiple shades of green that evokes an association of freshness and crunch, setting this dish up for how one eats. Send the warmer weather off with one last salad.
Serves 2 as a meal
Time: 30 minutes preparation + 15 minutes cooking
- 1 green chilli
- 3 tbsp finely diced shallots
- 1 clove garlic
- 150g pistachios shelled
- 80g cracked wheat (burghul), or substitute quinoa for a gluten-free option
- 1 large ripe avocado
- 1 Lebanese cucumber
- 2 cups purslane
- 2 cups curly leaf parsley
- 1 cup mint
- 20ml honey
- juice of 1 lemon
- 30ml olive oil
- 20ml fish sauce
- salt and pepper, to season
- 1 whole deboned trout (or fillet of flat fish such as John Dory)
- Dice the chilli, shallots and garlic very finely then set aside.
- Blanch the pistachios in boiling water and then rub the skins off using a towel.
- Place the burghul in a bowl then pour the same amount of boiling water as there is burghul over the top. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and let steam for 10 minutes. Come back and run a fork through to fluff up, then add a little salt.
- Chop the pistachios roughly into thirds then peel and dice the avocado and the cucumber to the same size as the pistachio nuts.
- The last step before dressing is to cut up the herbs. I roll all the leaves together and slice the herbs rather than just chop at them. Leaves respond to how they are cut, so if they are just minced into the chopping board you will find the board goes green and the herbs all end up tasting like each other. Slicing the herbs keeps them fresh and intact, and therefore tasting a whole lot less like mowed lawn clippings.
- In the bottom of a mixing bowl, combine the honey, lemon juice, olive oil and fish sauce, and then add the set-aside chilli, garlic and shallot. Add the avocado, cucumber and pistachios and toss through gently, followed by the burghul and then the herbs. This seems finicky but I assure you dressing in this order changes how the leaves hold their structure. Plus the acid gets soaked up by the fat of the avocado where it is needed most. Season to taste.
- Grill the fish skin-side down (don’t turn it), then let it rest to cook through. The underside should be slightly undercooked so that when you place the salad on top, the acid sits on it and finishes the cooking process.
- Dress the fish off the plate on a chopping board then transfer it to a serving plate. Finish with an extra little drizzle of olive oil.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 22, 2023 as "Salient green".
For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.
All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.
There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.
Select your digital subscription