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I Spice: Parsley

In 15 minutes, Parsley Pesto can be yours; keep reading to get the recipe. (Monica Bhide)

Fresh, bright, clean: The words I have heard used to describe parsley always make me feel I am reading an advertisement for the latest and greatest toothpaste. This herb does seem to evoke a lot of love. When I announced on Twitter I was writing about it, Hilda Brucker, whose work includes the book “Gardening” (New Seasons, 2002), sent me a note that essentially should be titled “Parsley, a Love Letter”!

“I am very happy to talk about parsley because it is such an underdog herb," Mark Bittman told me in a recent phone conversation. The New York Times columnist and author of several cookbooks says "it is such a hearty herb, available year-round. Instead of just using it as small garnish, this is an herb that should be used by the handfuls." He suggests buying bunches with a higher proportion of leaf to stem, as the herb has a tendency to get “leggy.” (Oh, and I love that he described the taste as green and bright.)

I recently read an article that said there are 30 different types of parsley. I am familiar with only the flat-leaf and curly kinds. Mark and I both thought that the flavor difference between them was not discernible, but that perhaps flat-leaf parsley is easier to clean: I rinse it well, then spread it on a paper towel to dry. And it’s hardy enough to take a turn in the salad spinner when I have a lot to dry. Mark recommends storing it, stems down, in a jar of water but confesses that he generally never does that: He tends to use up all the parsley he buys so quickly that he never has any left to store.

Hilda provided some great tips on how to use it, which I'll share with you:
* Stick with fresh parsley; the dried stuff is flavorless and useless.
* Parsley reseeds itself in the garden and is easy to grow once you get it started.
* Before chopping it, rinse it thoroughly under lots of running water. I once ruined some pesto by not rinsing the parsley well enough; I kept finding gritty bits of sand in the dish as I was eating it.
* For maximum flavor, stir chopped parsley into a dish (pasta, soup, stir-fry) when it's almost done cooking (or even just before serving). The flavor and color can degrade once the parsley is cooked.
* Another way to use parsley is in skillet recipes, such as coq au vin or braised lamb shanks, in a form that the French call bouquet garni. I tie a bunch of parsley together at the stem ends and let it simmer with the other ingredients from the beginning, then remove and discard the soggy bouquet before serving. The flavor imparted is very subtle.

Many people who responded to my questions about parsley described it as indispensable in their kitchens. Their suggested ways to use it included: liberal amounts in simple red tomato sauces; in egg salad, chicken salad, pasta salad and French-style potato salad (made with a vinaigrette instead of mayonnaise). Food Network’s Chris Cognac says “I use flat-leaf parsley all the time. I feel it’s a ‘clean-flavored' herb that does not overwhelm the food. It adds just enough flavor to enhance the dish you are making, plus it looks great!" Jill Nussinow (a.k.a. the Veggie Queen) told me her favorite year in her garden was when she discovered parsley growing in the middle of winter. She likes to add it to pesto, salads, dressings and all sorts of vegetables.

According to, parsley is high in vitamins A and C, iron, potassium and folic acid. The ancient Greeks were growing it as early as 300 B.C., but only used it medicinally and as feed for chariot horses.

I do love parsley, but have to say I was happier when I did not know that it was related to celery (that's for another blog). But it’s also related to carrots and parsnips. So there, I can adore parsley again.

-- Monica Bhide

Parsley Pesto
Makes 1 cup

This is a great sauce for any broiled or grilled chicken or fish, as well as shiitake mushrooms or other mushrooms that have been browned in butter.

MAKE AHEAD: The pesto can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or it can be frozen for up to 1 month. Adapted from “How to Cook Everything (Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition),” by Mark Bittman (Wiley, 2008).

2 cups loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, washed and dried
1 large clove garlic, crushed
Zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
1/4 cup walnut halves, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
Pinch salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the parsley, garlic, lemon zest and juice, walnuts, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup of the oil in a food processor. Pulse a few times until the mixture is coarsely chopped. With the motor running, gradually add the remaining oil to form a creamy sauce. Stop the machine occasionally to scrape down the sides, if needed. Taste and adjust the salt as needed.

Per tablespoon: 97 calories, 0 g protein, 1 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 14 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  June 26, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  I Spice , Recipes  | Tags: Mark Bittman, Monica Bhide, parsley  
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You are right, it's a very pleasing herb in the kitchen - and a robust one in the garden (although sometimes it seems it's taking forever to get to a harvestable size) I also use liberally to make green rice; with cilantro a few spices and green chili for green sauce for falafel - or with mint to go with lamb; handfuls in omelettes & egg/bread/cheese casserole, and of course, parsley & tomato salad.


Posted by: rowandk | June 26, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

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