Samui Wining & Dining
A Pinch of Parsley

The many secrets of this humble herb

 

8It’s one of those herbs that seems to suit almost all dishes, either as a primary ingredient or a garnish. And what plate of food doesn’t look better with a sprig of this frilly leaf on it?

    A little-known fact is that there are actually more than 30 varieties of parsley, but those you commonly see are curly-leaf and flat-leaf parsley. The different varieties vary in pungency, but all boast much the same flavour. Dried parsley that you get in pre-packaged shakers, however, tends to have little-to-no flavour and isn’t even worth buying if you want to actually add something to a dish that will register on the taste buds. An interesting titbit is that parsley was used in ancient times to ward off drunkenness – although the validity of its effectiveness in this capacity is less than scientific.

      In cooking, there are some instances where the parsley really comes into its own. Fish, for example, is really enhanced by the fresh flavour that this leaf brings. But that’s a fairly well known fact. Other foods that get a welcome injection of zest from this herb are chicken, eggplant, eggs, game, lentils, mushrooms, mussels, pasta, peas, potatoes, rice, seafood, tomatoes and courgette – more than enough ingredients to get your chef’s instincts going!

 

 Everybody knows you can
use the leaves of parsley,
but not so many know that
the stalks are excellent for
adding flavour to stock.

      

     Everybody knows you can use the leaves of parsley, but not so many know that the stalks are excellent for adding flavour to stock – just the stalks though, as the leaves turn bitter when cooked for several hours.

       Another bonus of parsley is that it’s available all year round. It’s not a fussy herb that falters at any sign of unsavoury weather conditions. This one’s hardy. And that’s partly why, wherever you are in the world, it seems to crop up in a number of dishes on any self respecting restaurant’s menu. Plus, it looks good. If you’ve got a plate of food that maintains a muted palette in the colour department – but packs a punch in taste – then a light sprinkling of greenery can be just the thing to lift the aesthetic from plain to proud.

      Home cooks who like to take their meals up a notch love to incorporate a fresh herb or two. And to get the best out of them the process starts at the market. When selecting some parsley for a spot of gourmet experimentation, here are some easy tips to follow to get the best stuff. You want a bushy plant that’s as bright green as you can find. Anything dull in colour has either been picked too early or been out of the ground too long. The leaves should also show no sign of wilting. That means that when you pick up your selected branch the stalks and leaves should still stand basically upright.

      And then there’s the storage of it. Once home, it’s best to keep your leafy finds in a wrap of kitchen towel as that absorbs any unwelcome moisture that could damage its crispness. While that may be more of a problem somewhere like Thailand where humidity can reach unpleasantly sticky levels, it’s also an issue in your fridge back home, where there’s sneaky precipitation floating about just waiting to ruin all your hard work.

      If after a little culinary exploration you find you gain such an appreciation for parsley that you want to grow it at home, know that it grows best in moist, well-drained soil with ample sunshine, and in temperatures between 20 and 22°C. A lot of people like to grow it from seed, but this is a process that requires patience, as it takes four to six weeks to yield anything edible. An alternative is to buy a potted version, plonk it into some nice, moist soil and, voila!, you’ve got yourself a fully-fledged herb garden in no time. It’s often frowned upon by die-hard gardeners to take the easy route, but in this case many people prioritise a guaranteed yield – there’s nothing worse than eagerly waiting six weeks for a no-show.

      One fantastic function of parsley is as a natural breath freshener. Much like a stick of gum, this refreshing herb acts as a palate cleanser. And one that’s combined with a fresh scent to perk your mouth up to kissable standards too, but without the antisocial mouth chomping that’s invariably associated with gum chewing. Plus, unlike gum, you don’t have to remove an unsightly putty-like substance from your mouth after a period of time. Chewing parsley is especially famed for removing the bad breath associated with odours from garlic and onions.

      But it’s also good for you, too. Parsley’s absolutely jam-packed with vitamins, including vitamins A, B, C and K. It boosts the immune system, so helps prevent infections, colds and diseases. This modest plant also boasts anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, as well as minerals like iron, calcium, potassium, copper, magnesium, manganese and iodine.

      So next time you see a sprig of parsley on your dish, or a chopped scattering of it on the rim of your plate, you’ll have a greater appreciation of its hidden functions. Because in actuality, this humble herb offers a whole lot more than just being a garnish.

 

Christina Wylie


 


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