Parsley

The delicious and vibrant taste and wonderful healing properties of parsley are often ignored in its popular role as a table garnish. Parsley is highly nutritious. Parsley is the world's most popular herb. It derives its name from the Greek word meaning "rock celery" (parsley is a relative to celery). It is a biennial plant that will return to the garden year after year once it is established.

While parsley is a wonderfully nutritious and healing food, it is often under-appreciated. Most people do not realize that this vegetable has more uses than just being a decorative garnish that accompanies restaurant meals. They do not know that parsley is actually a storehouse of nutrients and that it features a delicious green and vibrant taste.

The two most popular types of parsley are curly parsley and Italian flat leaf parsley. The Italian variety has a more fragrant and less bitter taste than the curly variety. There is also another type of parsley known as turnip-rooted (or Hamburg) that is cultivated for its roots, which resemble salsify and burdock. Parsley belongs to the Umbelliferae family of plants, and its Latin name is Petroselinum crispum.

Parsley is native to the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe. While it has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years, parsley was used medicinally prior to being consumed as a food. The ancient Greeks held parsley to be sacred, using it to not only adorn victors of athletic contests, but also for decorating the tombs of the deceased. The practice of using parsley as a garnish actually has a long history that can be traced back to the civilization of the ancient Romans.

While it is uncertain when parsley began to be consumed as a seasoning, it seems to be sometime in the Middle Ages in Europe. Some historians credit Charlemagne with its popularization since he had it grown on his estates.

In some countries, the curly leaf variety is more popular. This may have its roots in the ancient preference for this type since people were oftentimes reticent to consume the flat leaf variety because it resembled fool's parsley, a poisonous weed.

Turnip-rooted (or Hamburg) parsley, a relatively new species, having only been developed within the past two hundred years, has only recently begun gaining popularity.

Storing and Cooking

Fresh parsley should be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. If the parsley is slightly wilted, either sprinkle it lightly with some water or wash it without completely drying it before storing in the refrigerator.

If you have excess flat leaf parsley, you can easily dry it by laying it out in a single layer on a clean kitchen cloth. Once dried, it should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place. Curly leaf parsley is best preserved by freezing, as opposed to drying. Although it will retain most of its flavor, it has a tendency to lose its crispness, so it is best used in recipes without first thawing.

Fresh parsley should be washed right before using since it is highly fragile. The best way to clean it is just like you would spinach. Place it in a bowl of cold water and swish it around with your hands. This will allow any sand or dirt to dislodge. Remove the leaves from the water, empty the bowl, refill it with clean water and repeat this process until no dirt remains in the water.

Since it has a stronger flavor than the curly variety, Italian flat leaf parsley holds up better to cooking and therefore is usually the type preferred for hot dishes. It should be added towards the end of the cooking process so that it can best retain its taste, color and nutritional value.

If you are making a light colored sauce, use the stems from this variety as opposed to the leaves, so the sauce will take on the flavor of parsley but will not be imparted with its green color.

Quick Serving Ideas:
  • Combine chopped parsley with bulgur wheat, chopped green onions (scallions), mint leaves, lemon juice and olive oil to make the Middle Eastern classic dish, tabouli.
  • Add parsley to pesto sauce to add more texture to its green color.
  • Combine chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest, and use it as a rub for chicken, lamb and beef.
  • Use parsley in soups and tomato sauces.
  • Serve a colorful salad of fennel, orange, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and parsley leaves.
  • Chopped parsley can be sprinkled on a host of different recipes, including salads, vegetable sautés and grilled fish.

Did you know?

In 1997 a team of scientists and economists estimated that the value of services provided to humanity by the living natural environment to be over 33 trillion dollars per year.

Quotes

"Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own."
~Samuel Johnson

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