Today's Special: Miami Recipes

Making a case for using parsley beyond garnish

Tabbouleh salad is a Lebanese tradition that puts parsley front and center.
Tabbouleh salad is a Lebanese tradition that puts parsley front and center. Peter Cassidy

My husband, an architect, always says he plants trees around his mistakes. I always say I place parsley around my culinary mistakes.

For many of us, parsley is just a curly green garnish that’s on the plate for appearance. Why bother to eat it? And for that matter, why bother to buy a bunch?

But parsley offers much more than mere ornamentation. Its vibrant color and grassy flavor make it a great addition to most any savory dish.

It adds balance to dishes the way that a little pinch of sugar or salt can make something just taste better.

The flavor of flat-leaf parsley is deeper and sweeter than the curly variety and is a better choice for most dishes. Save the curly as a perky garnish to fish dishes or scrambled eggs.

Regardless of the variety, when you are shopping, look for deep green leaves and healthy stems. Yellowing leaves have no flavor. By the same token, choose fresh parsley over dried every time.

Don’t forget about using the stems in stocks and stews.

Parsley lasts about two weeks in the refrigerator. Before storing, wash parsley thoroughly and trim at least half an inch off the stems. Stand them in a jar of water in the refrigerator like a bouquet of flowers, loosely covered with a plastic bag.

Make sure parsley is absolutely dry before chopping. Chopped parsley can be frozen and stored in freezer bags, or it can also be mixed with water and frozen in ice cube trays. Either method will keep up to six months.

Both parsley varieties belong to the carrot family and originally grew wild across the world. Many of us are familiar with using parsley in bouquet garni (an herb package) used in French cuisine, in gremolata (mixture of parsley and grated lemon rind), salsa verde of Italy, and in Lebanon’s national dish tabbouleh (a salad of parsley and bulgur wheat).

When used as a main ingredient, parsley can seem surprisingly new. It blends well with other herbs, such as chervil, chives and mint. In addition to parsley’s flavor, you get a healthy hit of vitamin A and C, calcium, beta carotene and minerals.

For a fresh, finished flavor and colorful contrast, sprinkle pasta, vegetables or steamed new potatoes with bits of fresh parsley.

Take a tip from the French and add chopped parsley to a stew or soup at the start of cooking and again to the finished dish.

When I run low on basil, I extend my pesto with parsley. And parsley is a great breath freshener after that dish of garlic-laden pasta.

I can’t think of another herb that could play these diverse roles.

Carole Kotkin: ckotkin@gmail.com

Tabbouleh

This recipe is adapted from “Olives, Lemons & Za’atar” by Rawia Bishara (Kyle Books, $30). The dish can be scooped onto pita bread or eaten traditionally with a fork. In the Middle East, tabbouleh is commonly eaten with fresh lettuce or grape leaves used as a scoop. If you are using fine bulgur, you won’t need to soak it. Simply rinse and drain it then let it fluff up for about half an hour, stirring it with a fork every now and then. If using medium to coarse bulgur, stir together with 1 tablespoon oil in a heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water over, then cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand 15 minutes. Drain in a sieve, pressing on bulgur to remove any excess liquid. Look for a neutral white wine with good acidity in order not to clash with the parsley and mint and to stand up to the lemon juice. A California white, such as a 2014 Cairdean Estate Solano County Riesling ($19), ought to fit the bill perfectly.

4 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley, most of the stalks discarded, coarsely chopped

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 medium red onion or 6 scallions, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1/2 tablespoon sea salt or to taste

Juice of 2 lemons or to taste

3 to 4 tablespoons very fine bulgur wheat , rinsed

1/4 to 1/2 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Romaine lettuce, or cabbage leaves for serving

In a large bowl, combine the parsley with half the tomatoes, the onion, fresh mint, salt, lemon juice, oil and bulgur wheat. Gently toss to evenly distribute the ingredients. Taste and adjust the lemon juice and salt.

Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining tomatoes. Serve over the romaine or cabbage leaves.

Per serving: 205 calories (70 percent from fat), 17 g fat (2.4 g saturated, 12 g monounsaturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 3.2 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 3.4 g fiber, 640 mg sodium

Yield: 4 servings

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