Kate Heyhoe

Kate's Global Kitchen

Parsley: The Emerald Herb

by Kate Heyhoe


One food likely to grace both the Easter and the Passover tables is parsley—it's also a perfect way to splash some emerald-tones into a St. Patrick's Day dinner.

For Jews, parsley carries a symbolic meaning at Passover's Seder dinner. The herb represents new growth and the renewal of spring, but it's dipped in salty water as a reminder of the tears shed by a captive people.

Christians celebrating Easter don't place the same reverence on this brushy green herb. Instead, when parsley does appear on the Easter table, it's usually merely tossed on plates or platters as a visual garnish. The garnishing treatment is believed to carry back to the early Romans, who ate parsley sprigs as breath fresheners, to combat the smell of alcohol and rich foods.

While parsley has for centuries played a flavorful role in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, today the bouncy sprigs are too often scraped into the trash from picked over banquet plates, rather than acting as a seasoning within the meal. But if you've ever eaten tabouli, the lively salad of bulgur wheat, minced parsley, lemon and tomatoes, you know how un-boring the herb can be.

As Jerry Traunfeld says of parsley in the Herb Farm Cookbook, "Pretend you've never tasted it before and take a moment to sample a leaf. It has the essence of fresh green flavor and a distinct pungency that speaks for itself as well as harmonizes with nearly any other herb in the garden." Parsley has also been described as piny, with a slight camphor bite.

Ironically, parsley has become so common that its culinary versatility tends to be overlooked; sad, because it adds such brilliancy to meals in both color and flavor. Consider these parsley characteristics and cooking tips:

* "An herbal multivitamin" is how Judith Benn Hurley describes parsley. "A cup of minced fresh parsley (about 4 ounces) contains more beta-carotene than a large carrot, almost twice as much vitamin C as an orange, more calcium than a cup of milk, and twenty times as much iron as one serving of liver."

* Parsley (petroselinum crispum) comes in two varieties: curly leaf and flat leaf or Italian parsley. Curly parsley is the garnish most commonly used, while flat leaf parsley resembles celery leaves in shape, only darker.

* Both types taste similar, though many contend that the flavor of flat parsley is superior with a more pronounced flavor. Some prefer the texture of flat leaf parsley when a recipe calls for the herb to be coarsely chopped. Subtle differences in flavor between the two types exist, but each can be substituted for the other.

* Chopped parsley enhances a dish with a flavor best described as fresh and herby. A little goes a long way and is most fragrant when added at the end of the cooking time.

* To clean parsley, dunk it in water and swish it around. After shopping, I fill a sink with water, toss the parsley in, and put my groceries away, dunking the parsley every few minutes.

* Dry parsley thoroughly before chopping; a salad spinner is ideal. Don't bother squeezing it dry in a towel; you'll simply stain the towel and squeeze away the flavor.

* Store parsley as you would fresh flowers: trim the stems and place in a glass of water. Wrap a dry paper towel around the leaves, then cover with a plastic bag (loosely) and store in the fridge. The paper towel helps absorb any residual leaf moisture and the plastic and water keep the herb fresh. Every couple of days, change the water. Parsley will keep two weeks or longer this way.

For simple flavor boosts, combine minced parsley with breadcrumbs for your next gratin. The French liven up sautés with a spoonful of persillade, made from minced parsley and shallots or garlic, stirred in at the end of cooking. The Italians do the same thing with their version, called gremolata, but throw a bit of lemon zest in the mix. Deep fried parsley is a favorite accompaniment to fish (be sure to dry it well before frying).

Parsley deserves a welcome seat in a cook's ingredient repertoire: it's readily available, colorful, and mild yet flavorful. The recipes below present various ways to brighten up foods by actually putting parsley in the meal—not just on the side.


Parsley Recipes

Chimichurri: Argentine Parsley Garlic Sauce
Golden Passover Parsley Cakes
     with Horseradish-Sour Cream Sauce
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Chive-Parsley Dressing
Mushroom, Jarlsberg, and Parsley Salad
Pasta with Caramelized Garlic and Fresh Parsley
Roasted Sea Bass with a Parsley and Caper Sauce
Spaghetti with Walnut Sauce


Kate's Global Kitchen for March 2002:
03/01/02     Salt: The World's Biggest Shaker
03/08/02     Irish Recipes: Old and New
03/15/02     Parsley: The Emerald Herb
03/22/02     Easter: My Ham Glazes Over
03/29/02     Focus on Flavor: When Less Is More


Copyright © 2002, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.

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