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A paean to parsley

BY MARIALISA CALTA Published: May 7, 2012
Some people think of parsley as a necessary evil, the touch of green on a bad cafeteria meal or in a 1950s-era cookbook photograph, garnishing some mystery meat or a slab of ham.

Poet Ogden Nash was one of those people. He is perhaps best remembered for his terse "Reflections on Ice-Breaking": "Candy is dandy/But liquor is quicker." But he also penned a 30-stanza poem about parsley that begins, "I'd like to say a good word for parsley but I can't," as well as the much more succinct, "Parsley/Is gharsley."

But while Nash described himself as a "parsleyphobe," there are also parsleyphiles. Seamus Mullen, a New York chef and restaurateur, is one.

Mullen, who grew up on an organic farm in Vermont and who has cooked in restaurants in Michigan, Spain, San Francisco and New York, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. At first, he writes, he focused his treatment on what NOT to eat. But then he began identifying foods that made him feel better. He writes about those 18, including parsley, in a new book called "Hero Food" (Andrews McMeel, 2012).

Parsleyphiles champion the humble herb for helping fight cancer; improving heart, bladder, bone and nervous system health; and acting as an anti-inflammatory, among other benefits.

"Even if only a fraction of the health claims are accurate, parsley is a wonder herb," writes Mullen. He tries to drink a parsley smoothie every day and says it helps when he suffers joint pain. He notes that parsley is both affordable and widely available.

The only bad thing about parsley is that you usually bring home a big bunch, use a tablespoon or two in a recipe and then, about 10 days later, wind up scraping green slime from the vegetable crisper. But a few recipes that call for a LOT of parsley will help you avoid that trap.

Or try growing your own parsley; then you can pick only the amount you need for any given dish. Parsley is a hardy herb that is easy to grow in a pot on the windowsill or in your garden.

Mullen's book includes a recipe for a tasty parsley vinaigrette. I've added a recipe for chimichurri, the Argentine condiment that goes well with beef, poultry, fish or game, and a recipe for parsley pesto. To parody Ogden Nash: "Don't use parsley/Sparsley."

Two questions remain. First, what is the difference between curly and flatleaf (Italian) parsley? The flatleaf kind has more essential oils and thus a more pronounced flavor.

Second: What are Mullen's 17 other "hero" foods? Olive oil, dried beans, almonds, grains, anchovies, "good" (read: free-range) birds, "good" eggs (ditto), sweet peas, berries, carrots, corn, stone fruit, "good" (sustainably harvested) fish, "good" (pasture-fed) meat, squash, mushrooms and greens.


Yield: 1/2 cup

Handful of fresh parsley leaves and stems

1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 tablespoon Champagne vinegar

1/4 cup good-quality olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine parsley, garlic, lemon juice and vinegar in a blender.

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