I don't remember eating a lot of fresh herbs when I was a kid. In fact, I don't remember anybody eating them, but what I do remember was the "little green tree" that would come as a garnish on my restaurant plate. And I also remember pushing that odd little tree to the side of the plate, never to be eaten. Then one day, I decided to venture into the land of mystery. What was this thing? What would happen to me if I ate it? I reasoned that if it was on my plate and touching my food then, by golly, I ought to be able to eat it and live to tell the tale, right? To be on the safe side, I checked with mom, who gave the go-ahead, and I dug in. Not bad, and even better when dipped into my Thousand Island salad dressing!
I'm guessing parsley is, by far, the most recognized and widely available of all fresh herbs. Whether you grow it on your windowsill, grow it in your garden or buy it at the market, parsley is the savior of many a boring platter! But did you know that besides adding color, flavor and texture to a meal, parsley has its own set of health benefits?
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, fresh parsley delivers:
A special note: pregnant women should avoid excessive amounts of parsley.
- vitamin C and vitamin K
- natural plant compounds such as flavonoids and limonene
- volatile oils and potent antioxidants that benefit digestion
- carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lutein
There are two kinds of parsley: curly and Italian. Use them interchangeably, but remember that curly parsley is milder and works well as a garnish. Italian (flat-leaf parsley) is stronger, thicker and heartier and is best for longer cooking, stewing and simmering. To maximize those health benefits, aim for a 1/3 cup serving.
Here are some ideas for cooking with parsley:
- Add to your favorite soups and stews
- Replace some of the basil in your favorite pesto recipe; try this Whole Wheat Linguini with Green Pea Pesto.
- Add to whole grain salads made from brown rice, wild rice or quinoa. Try one of these:
- Mix into tuna, egg, potato or chicken salad
- Make a spring pea salad with spring peas, chopped green onion, chopped fresh parsley, minced celery and minced red pepper. Toss with your favorite mayonnaise or buttermilk dressing.
- Mince and add to meatballs.
- Mix into a topping for fish, such as this Catfish with Parsley and Tomato Salad.
- Sprinkle over potatoes, casseroles, main dishes and vegetable salads
- Add to spaghetti sauce, white sauce, wine sauce or any sauce (can be an ingredient or a garnish)
- Stir into dips, herb butters and cheese spreads
- Drink it as a tea, hot or cold: Add 2 tablespoons of minced parsley to 1 cup boiling water. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain and enjoy.
Here are a couple of options to keep parsley fresh as long as possible; try them and see what works best for you:
- Fill a glass with water and treat your parsley like a bouquet of flowers - snip off a little of the stem ends and place in water. Cover loosely with a plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator or at room temperature. Change the water every few days. Cut and use as needed, washing before use.
- Wash, dry well, wrap in a paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
If your recipe calls for dried parsley and you want to use fresh, here's a good rule of thumb: Use about three times more fresh than dried. Add more or less, depending on your taste buds.
Oh, and be sure to check your teeth after indulging - your pearly whites are a favorite hide-out for just about anything edible and green, with parsley topping the list, along with spinach!
Got a favorite recipe or great idea for using parsley? I'd love to hear!