Story by Abigail Olsen, Summer 2018
In my family, parsley is the most popular garnish. My Italian grandmother sprinkles fresh cut parsley on almost everything she cooks, including chicken, spaghetti, and cooked vegetables. She loves how it adds just a bit of extra flavor to all of her dishes, but her favorite part is that she loves the way it looks. Parsley has been important on my grandmother’s side of the family going back to her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She always keeps parsley and other herbs, such as basil and thyme, growing on her patio. Whenever she wants to use fresh parsley, she goes outside and cuts what she needs. She insists on growing her own because the fresh taste is noticeable to her.
Parsley is not only beloved in my family, but in different parts of the world. Parsley is native to the central Mediterranean region and is a biennial plant, meaning that it takes two years to grow to its full potential. During the first year, parsley grows leaves, stems, and roots; the stems are very short, and the leaves form rosettes with leaflets close to the ground. In the second year, parsley stems elongate and the plant flowers. It is grown as an herb, spice, and vegetable in different parts of Europe.
Parsley is used in different parts of the world, such as in European, Middle Eastern, Brazilian, and American cooking. In Europe and parts of Asia, parsley is used to garnish many dishes. In Brazil, parsley is the main ingredient for an herb seasoning, cheiro-verde, used to season many traditional Brazilian dishes, including meats, vegetables, and soups. In the Middle East, parsley is used for salads and it is mixed with chickpeas or fava beans when making falafel. In Italy, parsley is the main ingredient in salsa verde, a condiment made with parsley, anchovies, capers, and garlic soaked in vinegar. Parsley connects cultures that span the globe.
I remember going over to my grandmother’s house as a kid to help her make lunch. When cooking was complete, we would place the food in serving dishes and set them on the table. Then, she would walk outside and come back with parsley leaves. She would finely chop it and walk over to the table, sprinkle as much as she felt was necessary on the dishes, and then say “now it is ready to eat.” I never understood why because the parsley was so small, and it wasn’t the main part of the dish, so why is it that sprinkling a tiny bit makes a difference? It is not until you taste the dish with the parsley that you can understand why parsley is so important and widely used in many cultures and families, including mine.