In Praise of Parsley

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“Sprig of parsley on my plate, are you there to decorate?  Or is your meaning something more?  Is your purpose to be ate?”

This is a silly thing that went through my head decades ago as I stared at the pathetic little sprig of curly parsley adorning an otherwise colorless meal in an unremarkable setting.  Since then, my appreciation for and use of this oft-overlooked herb has grown exponentially and taken part, sometimes in center stage, in virtually ever meal I’ve prepared.

Not to be confused with that ridiculous curly impostor, my love affair with parsley is reserved only for the gorgeously verdant Italian variety shown above, whose leaves can be as tiny as a pinky fingernail or as large as the foliage of a weeping fig tree.

It seems to me now unfathomable that I didn’t buy my first bunch of fresh parsley probably until the age of 26 or 27 when, after 4 or 5 years as a married woman responsible for home-cooked meals, I relied heavily on dried parsley flakes and – for that matter – many other herbs in dried form that I couldn’t dream of using that way ever again.  Rosemary, cilantro, basil, to name a few.  but I digress.

Parsley not only elevates the taste and color spectrum of every dish where it remains in its bright, uncooked state, but is also the star of much ethnic cuisine – most notably tabbouleh.  Chop it and add it to your tuna salad, your potato salad, your pasta salad, or leave the leaves intact and add them to your mixed green salad.  You’ll surprise yourself how much of a flavor booster you have at your disposal, provided you treat your parsley with respect.

And by respect, I mean keep it cold and dry.  If your only option is to buy a bunch that’s been mercilessly sprayed by those relentless shower nozzles in the produce department, shake off the excess, bag it without a twist tie, and then blot it as soon as you get home in a cocoon of paper towels.  If you don’t, your beautiful bouquet of greenery will turn to a mushy mess before you’ve had a chance to use most of it.  Keep it in a ziploc bag, and place a paper towel blotter inside if there’s any moisture left.

Same goes for parsley’s cousin, cilantro, which I often use together in a chimmichurri or charmoula marinade.  But unlike cilantro, whose stems are tender and edible, parsley stems can be tough,  Save them to use with other aromatics when you’re making chicken soup, but not too much or your broth will take on a greenish hue.

If you find when you’re shopping that the only parsley remaining is wilted or puny, ask them to bring out more, or pass on it.  You’d never buy a bouquet of flowers that’s gone by, so even if it’s only $1.29 per bunch, make sure your parsley purchase is as deeply green and filled with promise as the one in the photo.

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