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After salt and pepper, parsley is the most used spice in the United States.
Often used as nothing more than a garnish, parsley has suffered decades of neglect. But there's much more to parsley than meets the eye. Once you put this herb in the spotlight, it shines on its own. Parsley is the backbone of classic French and Middle Eastern cuisines. Let's discover why you, too, should adore this herb.
Parsley is native to the Mediterranean. It's scientific name is Petroselinum crispum and was cultivated as early as the third century BC. It was used during the Roman Empire as a flavoring for food and a breath freshener. Believing the herb could absorb fumes, ancient Romans placed parsley on tables and around their necks when they dined. Superstition also surrounded parsley in the Middle Ages when it was believed one could kill an enemy by speaking their name while plucking a spring. It was brought to the Americas in the 17th century where it now grows profusely.
The most common varieties of parsley are the curly and the flat-leafed kind. Curly parsley is popular in the United States but the rest of the world favors the flat-leaf varietal (sometimes called Italian parsley).
Image courtesy Katrin Morenz/Flickr
Without parsley there would be no tabouleh, a salad beloved in the Middle East. Every country has its own version but a basic tabouleh features finely chopped parsley mixed with bulgur wheat, lemon olive oil and mint. Parsley also features in baba ganoush, a roasted eggplant dish of the region.
Italians mix parsley with lemon zest and garlic for a sauce called gremolata, which accompanies the famed osso bucco dish. Some Italians also add parsley to sauces, meats and pesto. In France parsley is tucked into bouquet garni and used in persillade, a sauce with garlic, oil and vinegar.
Argentinians use parsley in their chimichurri sauce for steaks while the British use it liberally in cooking. The Germans favor a varietal called Hamburg parsley, which is thicker and has a strong taste of celery. Parsley stems make a great addition to broth and sauces.
How to Buy
When buying fresh, choose parsley that is deep green and firm with no discolored leaves. If buying dried, look for parsley with dark green color without visible pieces of stalk.
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Once you take fresh parsley home, give it a nice rinse to remove any grit. Then make a parsley bouquet and keep in a glass with water in refrigerator. It should keep well for a week. Alternately, you can wrap parsley in a damp paper towel and keep in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. Parsley freezes well, just make sure it is fully dry after rinsing. Dried parsley should be kept in a dark cupboard away from light and moisture.
Parsley in known as a breath freshener but it should be world famous for its nutritional value. Parsley is high in vitamins A, B, and C and is a good source of calcium and iron. Not only does parsley contain antioxidants, it also helps boost other antioxidants in the body. It is often called ''a vitamin pill in a plant.''
Researchers across the Middle East have found parsley can lower the incidence of heart disease and treat type 2 diabetes. Parsley may even prevent stomach ulcers, this is according to research highlighted in Healing Spices, a book written by Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD and Debora Yost.