Parcelling up the parsley

Everybody needs some parsley in their garden.

Nobody would ever call Parsley a star performer. Seldom is it ever anything but a bit player in the recipe of life but I contend that without Parsley our lives would be much diminished. It is the one herb that will go with pretty much anything we are ever likely to cook from simple omelettes to fish pies and curries.

Time was that the closest British cooking got to exoticism was a sprig of parsley, it’s leaves as tightly curled as a nervous caterpillar, plonked on top of a sliced tomato or poached fish to add a bit of greenery to the presentation. In really swanky places the dish would sometimes be edged in a sort of miniature parsley hedge to show sophistication and panache. Things changed when British cooks and gardeners latched onto Italian parsley which carries much more flavour than the curly stuff and is used in many mediterranean recipes. The secret with parsley is abundance - not just a pinch or a scattering but great handfuls of the herb, chopped and torn and added to classics such as Tabbouleh or Salsa verde.

Parsley is a member of the carrot family and, like carrots and parsnips, a biennial. This means that year one is all about foliage. Year two is the year that it flowers and sets seed. There is no year three for the plant dies through the superhuman (or super herbal) efforts required from it in year two.

Like most herbs parsley carries a bit of folkloric baggage. Persephone (who, you will remember, had to spend six months of the year hanging out in the underworld with Hades) is often depicted clutching a bunch of parsley to her tragic (though often pert) bosom. Ancient Greeks never ate parsley but used it in funeral ceremonies and to decorate tombs.

The Romans ate it as a breath freshener after particularly garlicy meals: which is where the garnish thing came from - a sprig on the side of a plate that could then be nibbled with the petit fours to keep your ring of confidence intact. In Europe it was said that only pregnant women and witches could grow parsley properly and also that it should be planted on Good Friday for the best crop (which is a bit of a Pagan/Christain mix up) so you should be getting yourself organised for Easter. We have provided a short film on the subject on our YouTube Channel.

If you have parsley to burn and are looking for something a bit more substantial here is a recipe for the aforementioned Tabbouleh which is a great Arabic salad using bulgur wheat.

4 tbsp. soaked bulgur
  • 3 bunches parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely sliced
  • 3 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1/2 c.lemon juice
  • pepper and allspice

Drain the water from the soaking bulgur and combine with the next four ingredients. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and seasonings to make your dressing and toss with the rest of the ingredients. A pinch of cinnamon or baharat can also be used to season the salad.