Rita Heikenfeld Wants You to Try the Tabouleh

The herb authority talks about her love for gardening and shares her mother’s recipe.
Rita Heikenfeld
Rita Heikenfeld

Photograph by Jonathan Willis

As she wades knee-deep through her herbs, Rita Nader Heikenfeld drops serious botanical knowledge, pausing to offer feels, nibbles, and sniffs of her more than 150 varieties. Heikenfeld, a certified modern herbalist and culinary professional, has written a syndicated recipe column for Gannett’s Community Press & Recorder since the mid-1990s; stars in her own Community Access show; is resident herbalist for FOX19 Morning Xtra; does a live national segment on Sacred Heart Radio every Thursday morning about biblical herbs; has her own website (abouteating.com); and teaches at Jungle Jim’s, Natorp’s, Granny’s Garden School, and Living Spaces Custom Design.

“My love of herbs comes from my mom and dad,” the Madison Place native says, having grown up with eight siblings in a 900-square-foot home, where her mom—first generation Lebanese—grew enough hobbit (basil), nahnah (mint), thyme, and marjoram for the whole family in a single black iron kettle (now Heikenfeld’s basil pot).

At her home on the East Fork River, she schools students, gardeners, and cooks of every level. Before homesteading was trendy, before gourmet was all the rage, Heikenfeld staked her claim with herbs, eventually earning a place in local history (she was inducted into the Cincinnati Culinary Hall of Fame last year). Credentials aside, the conversation always returns to family.

“Mom used to say, ‘You can garden in a teacup,’ ” she says, adding, “you garden where you’re planted.”

Try this: Heikenfeld’s mother’s Tabouleh
(makes six servings)

1 c Bulgur cracked wheat
6 tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 large bunch parsley, leaves only, chopped
1 bunch radishes, chopped
1 English cucumber, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2-3 TSP cumin, or to taste
Several sprigs of mint and basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c Canola oil, or to taste
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Place bulgur in bowl and rinse under cool water three times. Leave about 1/4 inch water on top after third rinse. Let set for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed, then squeeze remaining liquid out.

Meanwhile, combine vegetables with cumin and herbs. Add bulgur, oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

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