with food, there’s always something new


Originally published on, February 6, 2007

Long before Bill Clinton’s behavior made certain sexual practices a part of our vernacular, there was a joke circulating in the early eighties. I first heard it at a yuppie/happy hour in the bar/lounge of the Cork and Cleaver in Bloomington.

The joke goes like this:
Question: What’s the difference between p____ and parsley?
Response: Nobody eats parsley anymore.”

Although the joke is now an old, overused chestnut, it was risqué and hysterically funny at the time. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering, why doesn’t anyone eat parsley anymore?

Or do they?

If people aren’t eating parsley, they’re buying it. Major Indy grocery chains, Kroger, Marsh, Meijers, sell fresh parsley. Parsley isn’t stuck away in a corner, shoved into little plastic packages and sold $2.49 for eight sad-looking leaves, No siree, curly-leaf parsley is front and center in the produce section. Vivid, bright-green, healthy-looking leaves, usually priced less than buck for a large bunch.

I buy parsley and use it. It’s great as a breath freshener. Toothpastes have artificial sweeteners; parsley is “chlorophylly” and removes that tannic aftertaste. Parsley is practical as a decoration. Instead of buying grocery-store bouquets with dyed flowers imported from Brazil, I’ll buy one or two flowers and pair them with sprigs of parsley. Combats cabin fever this time of year.

I buy parsley and eat it too. Tabbouleh wouldn’t be tabbouleh without parsley. It’s essential for bouquet garni. Without persillade scattered over the tops, cream soups are positively anemic. Add some lemon zest, and voila! persillade becomes gremolata.

I’m not the only one thinking about parsley, lately. Last Thursday, Barbara Damrosch wrote this article (…)
entitled The Herb That Stands Up to Winter.

In it she says:
“There aren’t many green plants you can pick generous bunches of in January, but parsley holds its own with spinach, leeks and kale. Also, there aren’t many culinary herbs whose flavor is mild enough to eat in large quantities. Recently I pureed a big bunch of it with some cream, then simmered the mixture to reduce and thicken it, melting in some Parmesan cheese and pouring the sauce over ravioli. It drew raves, as did a quiche in which parsley was the key player.
Eager to explore more uses, I consulted some of my favorite cooks. Fergus Henderson’s “The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating” contains a great recipe for parsley salad, a simple affair in which it is chopped, mixed with capers and shallots, then sprinkled with coarse salt, dressed with a lemon vinaigrette and spread on toast along with the marrow from roasted veal bones. I should think tuna, salmon, tongue, liverwurst, paté and other meats or fish could substitute for marrow if you had none at hand.
Chef Odessa Piper, a wizard with vegetables, makes parsley salads that stand alone, with a chewy Parmesan added or with slices of prosciutto. She also combines parsley with endive (a classic winter salad staple) to take the edge off the endive’s bitterness. Piper puts bright green swirls of parsley puree on top of soups. She’ll drop a bunch of it briefly in a pot of boiling pasta water, just to blunt the rawness, and then serve it mixed with the cooked pasta, oil and crumbled goat cheese. She ranks parsley high among the herbs that are delicious when fried to a crisp in hot oil or in the bubbling, flavorful fat at the bottom of a pan in which a chicken has been roasted.”

So what chefs in Indy are starring parsley front and center? As you know, I don’t get out much, so I checked.websites. I surfed the net and found menus for Elements, L’explorateur, Oakleys Bistro, Dunaways, Oceanaire and St. Elmos. Menus mentioned all kinds of herbs, spices, flavorings and seasonings: garlic, fennel, sage, miso, saffron, cracked black pepper, kosher salt, thyme, rosemary, basil (really? in the middle of the winter? I thought seasonality was the buzzword), ginger, pickled ginger, capers, cilantro, horseradish, sorrel, salsify, daikon. I’m sure they’re using parsley in some of those recipes, but little parsley is like Cinderella, left in the attic because she’s too unimportant to attend the ball.

Perhaps you’ve had a delicious dish made with parsley at a local restaurant. We’d loved to know about it. Or maybe you have a special dish, recipe or use for parsley that you’d like to share with us. Feel free to post.

You can appreciate parsley in its glory and splendor at Bloomingfoods Market and Deli. Create your own salad from their delicious salad bar and top it with Tao dressing. Better yet, ask them to bottle some up for you and take it home. Parsley, along with spinach and other herbs serve as the backdrop for this creamy dressing.

What I like about parsley in Indianapolis is that it’s egalitarian. Cronyism, so rampant and destructive to our city, hasn’t corrupted our little soldier parsley. You can find it anywhere—Greenwood, Speedway, Irvington—you don’t have to drive all the way to Carmel or 96th Street to buy it. Even ghetto Lo-Bills and Kroger have parsley. Price is stable, no gouging urban poor for this product.

So what happened in the late 70’s/early 80’s to put parsley into such a long exile? Was parsley our mother’s (or are father’s) herb and therefore too uncool for us to take seriously? Was parsley lumped with Buicks, Cadillac’s, girdles, Old Spice, iceberg lettuce and Wonder Bread? Was it too WASP and not exotic enough for our tastes? Was it the bottles of desiccated parsley sold on spice racks that sealed its fate? Did basil and balsamic vinegar run rampant, leaving poor little parsley behind as roadkill?

Whatever the reason, it’s time to bring parsley back, because it never went away.


Written by Susan Gillie

February 6, 2007 at 12:06 am

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