A brief guide to parsley including health benefits and ideas for cooking.
Although parsley is probably the most widely used herb in cooking, many people still underestimate its true nutritional and culinary worth, by only adding a miserly sprig to cooked meals as a garnish adorning the top.
As well as offering a deliciously fresh and herby twist to certain foods, parsley is highly nutritious and research has proven that it is even beneficial to our health.
Types of parsley
There are two main variations of parsley that are used in cooking. The curly-leaf type has a milder flavour and is mainly used as a garnish to salads, soups or various meals.
The other form of parsley is the flat-leaf or Italian variety, which is much more flavoursome. For this reason it is often used in cooking, as it can withstand the cooking process whilst still retaining its flavour.
Full of vitamins
It is hard to believe that a tiny green herb such as parsley is rich in so many vitamins and minerals, but it is true. Parsley is an excellent source of Vitamin A, several B Vitamins and Vitamin K and it also contains more Vitamin C that most citrus fruits.
It boosts the immune system and can prevent against many infections, colds and other diseases. Vitamin C is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Therefore parsley can be useful in preventing and easing conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and certain cancers.
Not only that but parsley also contains a whole host of minerals too, including iron, calcium, potassium, copper, magnesium, manganese and iodine.
Health benefits of parsley
There is no end to what parsley can do to help your body internally and externally. Below are just some of the things that parsley can be used for in order to combat illness and other ailments:
- Parsley is an excellent breath freshener, eliminating strong mouth odours such as garlic or onion.
- It cleanses and strengthens the kidney and can even help break up kidney stones.
- Helps with bladder or urinary tract infections.
- Parsley aids digestion and promotes a faster elimination of waste materials from the body.
- It acts as an anti-inflammatory, reducing joint pain and stiffness.
- It boosts the immune system and protects against colds and infections.
- It can help to protect the body against heart disease and cardiovascular disease.
- Parsley can help with water retention, bloating, indigestion and flatulence.
- It has been said to promote delayed menstruation and ease PMT.
- Parsley aids the digestion of proteins and fats.
- It is helpful in pregnancy and fertility.
- The calcium and fluorine that is present in parsley can strengthen bones and teeth.
Buying and storing parsley
Parsley can be grown all year round either indoors or outdoors. You can also buy fresh and dried parsley from your local supermarket. Try to always choose fresh parsley over dried parsley, as fresh parsley is much more flavoursome.
Fresh parsley should be stored in the fridge in a plastic bag for no longer than a week, after which it will begin to wilt and go off.
If you want to dry fresh parsley leaves, you should remove the leaves from the stems, place the leaves flat on a clean surface away from direct sunlight and allow them to dry naturally. Once the leaves have dried thoroughly, they can be stored in an airtight container or jar.
Three recipes from all over the world giving ideas on how to cook with parsley including the French classic dish, Pommes Persillade (potatoes with parsley and garlic), the Lebanese dish Tabbouleh and British parsley fish cakes.
Herby fish cakes
Parsley goes well with all kinds of fish, especially when added to mashed potato and made into delicious fish cakes.
(For 4 large fish cakes)
- 1 lb (450 g) of potatoes
- 1 lb (450 g) of skinned fish fillets (salmon, cod, haddock)
- 4 oz (115 g) fresh breadcrumbs (white or brown)
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp of chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tbsp of plain flour
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 4 tbsp of vegetable oil (for frying)
- salt and pepper
- Put the fillets of fish into a large frying pan and pour in just enough cold water to cover them. Turn the cooker onto medium and gently bring the water to a boil.
- Cover the pan and simmer gently for about 5 minutes, reducing the heat if necessary.
- Drain the fish and transfer to a plate. Allow the fish to cool.
- Put a large pan of salted water onto boil and in the meantime wash, peel and quarter the potatoes. Place the potatoes into the boiling water and cook until they are soft (about 15 mins).
- Drain the potatoes and mash with a potato masher, making sure the potatoes are smooth and lump-free. Set aside.
- Once the fish is cold enough to handle, break into small pieces or flakes with a fork, making sure that any bones have been removed.
- In a large mixing bowl mix together the fish, mashed potato, grated lemon zest and chopped parsley.
- Season with the salt and pepper and then with your hands, shape the mixture into four round fish cakes, or six - eight smaller ones.
- Prepare three separate bowls and fill one with the flour, one with the beaten egg and the last one with the breadcrumbs.
- First, lightly coat the fish cakes with flour, then dip them into the beaten egg, making sure that each side is coated and finally roll them in the breadcrumbs.
- Place on a plate and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- When you are ready to cook the fish cakes, heat up the vegetable oil in a medium-sized frying pan.
- Add the fish cakes and fry gently on each side for about 5 minutes or until the breadcrumbs have turned a golden brown colour and the cakes are thoroughly heated.
- Serve immediately with a fresh green salad.
Tabbouleh is the national dish of Lebanon. It is a refreshing salad made from bulgur wheat, spring onions, fresh mint and fresh parsley. It can be served as an appetiser, a starter, a healthy snack or even a main meal.
- 3 oz (75 g) of bulgur (cracked) wheat
- 2 oz (50 g) of parsley
- 2 oz (50 g) of fresh mint leaves
- 6 chopped spring onions
- 3 fl oz (85 ml) of olive oil
- 2 diced tomatoes
- juice of 2 lemons
- salt and pepper
- Place the cracked wheat into a bowl and pour all of the lemon juice over to cover it. Allow to stand for one hour until the wheat has become soft and inflated. Stir occasionally.
- Rinse the mint and parsley, remove the thick stems and finely chop with a sharp knife.
- Add the chopped herbs and the chopped spring onions to the bulgur wheat and mix well.
- Add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir thoroughly until all the ingredients have been mixed together well.
- Transfer the tabbouleh salad to a serving dish and place the diced tomatoes on top. The salad is now ready to serve. Tabbouleh can be served with small lettuce leaves, which are used to scoop up the salad. Alternatively, tabbouleh can be served with warmed pitta bread.
Pommes Persillade (Potatoes with parsley and garlic)
A persillade is a mixture of finely chopped parsley and garlic, which may be added to a dish at the beginning or end of the cooking process. It is often partnered with lamb but in this case it is added to small cubes of fried potatoes and served as a side dish.
- 2 medium sized potatoes
- 2 minced cloves of garlic
- ¼ cup of very finely chopped parsley
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 tbsp of butter
- salt and pepper
- Wash and peel the potatoes and cut them into small cubes.
- Chop the garlic and parsley and mix together. Set aside.
- Heat up the olive oil on a fairly high heat, add the potato cubes and sauté until they are light brown and crisp on the outside and soft inside.
- Add the butter and cook for several more minutes until the potatoes are nearly done.
- With one minute before serving, add the persillade, tossing the potatoes so that they are all evenly coated with the garlic and parsley.
- Season with the salt and pepper and then remove from the heat and serve immediately.