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Parsley: The All-Purpose Herb

Updated on June 29, 2010

Parsley goes back at least to Roman times, and it has been a firmly entrenched component of almost every European cuisine for more than 2,000 years. Parsley is as essential to European cooking as cilantro is to Asian food. Part of its popularity may be attributed to the fact that it was once thought to ward off drunkenness, but that myth (alas - would that it were true!) is more likely an effect of the herb's ubiquity. The real reason parsley is the West's most popular herb is its bright, mild, green flavor.

You're likely to find two varieties of parsley at the market: flat- and curly-leaf. Flat-leaf parsley looks a lot like cilantro. The curly-leaf type looks like the flat-leaf parsley on a "bad hair" day. Although the curly kind has more decorative appeal, flat-leaf parsley has more flavor. If you want to look at it, use curly. If you want to eat it, choose the flat variety, which also has the additional virtue of being easier to clean - no nooks and crannies to trap grit.

The differences in taste between the two aren't so great; you can use them interchangeably if you wish. Just don't use the dried kind - you might as well add grass clippings to your dinner.

Parsley is as close to an all-purpose herb as it can be. There's almost no inappropriate use for it, except in chocolate cake or orange juice.

  • Use parsley, garlic, white wine, and clam juice as the steaming liquid for mussels or clams.
  • Parsley is a perfect complement for potatoes - add it to mashed potatoes, or serve a simple parsley-butter sauce with baked or steamed new potatoes.
  • Substitute flat-leaf parsley for all or part of the basil in pesto. (Don't try this with the curly-leaf kind - it has a grassy taste that can be overwhelming.)
  • Combine parsley with other herbs: mint, dill, and cilantro all go well together.
  • Make an easy tabbouleh with bulgur or couscous by adding chopped parsley, cucumber, scallions, and tomato, then toss with lemon juice and olive oil.
  • Parsley's essential in tabbouleh, but you can also add it to other Middle Eastern-style spreads like hummus or baba ghanoush.
  • Add chopped parsley to just about any dish that looks like it needs a little color.

Tomato & Mint Tabbouleh

Serve this refreshing Middle-Eastern-style salad, made with cracked wheat, alongside grilled chicken or fish for an easy summer supper.

1 1/2 cups bulgur (cracked wheat)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 pound ripe tomatoes (about 3 medium)
1 medium cucumber (about 8 ounces)
3 green onions
3/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1. In medium bowl, combine bulgur, lemon juice, and 1 1/2 cups boiling water, stirring to mix. Let stand until liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cut tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces. Peel and cut cucumber into 1/2-inch pieces. Chop green onions.

3. When bulgur mixture is ready, stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours to blend flavors.


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