Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Beyond garnish: used correctly, parsley brings flavor, texture and freshness

Parsley is one of those ubiquitous ingredients that seems to be everywhere yet not used specifically. Sadly, its starring role seems to be as a throw-away garnish on everything from grilled fish to tortas.

That’s a shame, really, as parsley’s bright, grassy flavor — lightly herbal but sweet and fresh — is a respected asset in classic dishes all over Europe, the Middle East and some South American countries. It’s an essential in Lebanese tabouleh, Italian gremolata, French fines herbes and bouquet garni, the Québécois pommes persillade and the traditional Brazilian herb seasoning cheiro-verde.

Historically, the ancient Romans believed that a necklace of fresh parsley would prevent drunkenness. If any of you try this, please let me know if it works!

I’ve only encountered parsley in Mexico (known here as perejil, pronounced pear-ray-heel) as the aforementioned sad garnish, or sometimes in lime or pineapple agua fresca, where the tiny minced bits add a pretty green color and just a hint of herby flavor to the juice concoction.

By the way, calling cilantro “Mexican parsley” is a complete misnomer. They’re two very different plants whose flavor profiles are poles apart. What is confusing, though, are the two varieties of parsley, flat-leaf and curly. For most of us, the flavors are about the same — it’s the textures and uses that differ.

Parsley chimichurri
Make parsley chimichurri the costar of your steak dinner!

Curly parsley is, as the name says, curly and is what’s commonly used in French cooking. The stems are filled with small bunches of tightly packed leaves that, when fresh, can be particularly juicy and flavorful. Flat-leaf or Italian parsley is softer and holds its flavor better than its curly cousin when heated.

Whichever variety you buy, look for a fresh, bright green color, firm stems and no yellowing. Once you get your parsley home, don’t wash or disinfect it until you’re ready to use it. Store the bunch in the fridge wrapped in paper towels and sealed in a plastic bag, or you can snip the stems and place it in a glass with a little water, like you would a bunch of flowers.

Parsley Pesto

  • ½ lb. spaghetti
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans/walnuts
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice plus wedges for serving

Cook spaghetti al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water. In food processor, blend garlic, parsley, nuts, Parmesan, oil, salt and pepper until it forms a thick paste. Add lemon juice.

Toss hot pasta with pesto, adding reserved pasta water as needed. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Argentinian Chimichurri

  • 1 cup packed fresh parsley
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes

In food processor or blender, pulse parsley, garlic and oregano until finely chopped. Transfer to a medium bowl; whisk in oil, vinegar, salt and red pepper flakes. Store refrigerated up to 2 days.

Fresh Herb Italian Vinaigrette

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 10 large fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tsp.)
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1½ tsp. honey
  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Combine parsley, basil, oregano, garlic, vinegar and honey in food processor. Process until a paste forms. With motor on, drizzle in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. — seriouseats.com

Parsley shrimp
Plenty of garlic and parsley make this shrimp dish divine.

Shrimp or Salmon with Green Sauce

  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch parsley, tough stems discarded
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • ½ jalapeno, seeded
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1 lb. large peeled and deveined shrimp OR 3 (6 oz.) salmon filets

Preheat oven to 500 F. In food processor, blitz garlic. Add parsley, scallions and jalapeno to food processor and blend; add olive oil and salt. Blitz until combined.

Pour into 8-by-8-inch glass baking dish. Add wine, water and shrimp/salmon to the sauce; stir to combine.

Bake until shrimp are opaque, 8–10 minutes, or until salmon is cooked to desired tenderness.

Note: If using salmon, follow directions above, adjusting the bake time for the size of the filets.

Parsley and Romaine Salad

Simple flavors + lots of texture = delicious!

  • 1 cup packed flat-leaf parsley, large stems removed
  • 1 heart of romaine lettuce
  • 1 Tbsp. pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 4 thin slices stale or toasted baguette, rubbed with a cut clove of garlic and cubed
  • 1 Tbsp. minced chives
  • ¼ cup vinaigrette dressing of your choice*

Cut parsley into thin strips (chiffonade) by holding the bunch tightly together and cutting across it with a chef’s knife. Transfer to salad bowl.

Stack romaine leaves; cut crosswise into chiffonade. Add to salad bowl. Add pine nuts, croutons and chives. Just before serving, toss with dressing.

* To make a simple lemon vinaigrette: 1 Tbsp. lemon juice whisked with 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil and salt to taste

Garlic-Parsley Butter

The simplest sauce for grilled seafood, meat, and vegetables.

  • 1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz.), softened
  • ¼ cup packed fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon  juice
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine butter, parsley, lemon juice and zest, and garlic in food processor. Pulse until combined thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Alternatively, mince parsley and garlic by hand and mix everything in a bowl using a fork.) Wrap butter tightly; store in refrigerator up to two weeks or in freezer several months.


 Serve over grilled fish, veggies, pork or meat or mix with pasta.

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Optional: ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon grated orange zest, 1 Tbsp. chopped capers, minced jalapeño

Mix everything together.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expatsfeatured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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