Parsley grows well in my garden, and I plant a lot of it. This sturdy, leafy green appeals to me in several ways. As a gardener, I love it because it’s so pretty in my raised beds. It does well in cool, wet weather, and it produces useful foliage right up until hard frost. From a dietary standpoint, parsley is a very healthful vegetable, and it’s easy to add it to other foods for a boost of green power.
But the main reason I grow parsley is for its sentimental value — it is the main ingredient in two delicious dishes passed on to me by two delightful women who have since departed this life.
The first dish is tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern dish traditionally made with bulgur wheat and parsley. I learned to make tabbouleh from Helen George, a first-generation Lebanese-American. At the time I knew her, Helen was beginning to suffer from dementia and was staying with her daughter Carol, a dear friend of mine, and Carol asked me to spend some time with her mom in the kitchen.
My memories of those cooking lessons are so tender, they make my heart ache. Standing side by side at the kitchen counter, Helen instructed me on how to prepare each ingredient using techniques she had learned from her mother. She first assessed the freshness of the produce. Then she showed me how to roll the mint and parsley in large lettuce leaves, making bundles that are easy to chiffonade instead of trying to deal with a pile of loose leaves.
She had me roll the lemons back and forth on the counter, pressing them firmly with my hand to help loosen up the juice. After juicing the lemons, she taught me to drizzle olive oil onto the juicer and pour it into the tabbouleh so that no juice was wasted. Not everything about our tabbouleh was traditional: we used quinoa instead of bulgur wheat, and we added peas. After all the ingredients were in the bowl, we would taste, then add more oil, lemon juice, or salt — taste again, make adjustments — until Helen declared it just right. When the tabbouleh was finished, we sat together at a little table by the kitchen window and ate, expressing our mutual appreciation for how lively, green and delicious the dish tasted.
There was never a written recipe for our tabbouleh. All the amounts are to-your-taste. For example, you could use twice as much quinoa, or an extra tomato; you could double the mint, or leave out the peas. Here is a basic template for how Helen and I made tabbouleh — feel free to make it your own.
By the way, I also grow my own mint, specifically for making tabbouleh. Mint can be invasive in the garden, so I grow it in a pot.
Makes 5 cups
½ cup quinoa
2 large lettuce leaves
1 large bunch of parsley
1 large bunch of mint
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 bunch of green onions, sliced
½ cup peas, thawed if frozen
2 cloves garlic
1 large lemon (about ¼ cup juice)
¼ cup olive oil
Salt to taste, about ¾ teaspoon
Cook the quinoa in 1 cup water by bringing it to a boil, then covering and simmering on very low heat until water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy — 12-15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Wash parsley and mint and shake off excess water. Discard large stems. Wrap the parsley and mint in lettuce leaves to make tight bundles, then chiffonade the bundles by slicing into very thin strips.
In a large bowl, combine the cooled, cooked quinoa, the chopped parsley/mint/lettuce, the chopped tomato, the green onion, and the peas.
Juice the lemon and pour the juice into a small bowl or glass measuring cup. Add the olive oil and salt and press the garlic into the mixture.
Mix this dressing into the tabbouleh, stirring gently. Taste and adjust seasonings.
The salad can be eaten immediately or allowed to rest in the fridge.
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My second parsley recipe comes from another culture — the northern Italian region of Piemonte — via my husband’s aunt Sally DeStefano, whose parents were Piemontese immigrants to this country. Sally was in her 80s when I knew her and still living in the house where she was born in Haledon, New Jersey. On our trips back East, Aunt Sal enjoyed cooking for us, and I can still see that little kitchen in my mind’s eye. She was a good cook, and she shared a number of Italian recipes with me, including this one for bagnatte (pronounced like bun-yaht), an intense parsley condiment.
Bagnatte is typically made with anchovies, but miso — a salty, fermented soybean paste — stands in wonderfully. Spread it onto toasted artisan bread, serve as a side with vegan burgers, stir it into pasta, bean salads or grain salads, or just eat it right out of the bowl, as I do. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled.
Makes ½ cup
1 large bunch of parsley, about 2 cups of leaves
1 or more cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoon miso
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend to desired texture.
Did you know?
A fun way to expand your vegan repertoire is to explore cuisines that already include lots of plant-based dishes. According to VegNews, some of the most vegan-friendly world cuisines are Ethiopian, South Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican, Korean, Southern Italian and Burmese. I would add Northern Italian to that list!
Bonnie Ambrosi lives in Duluth and is an organizer of The Vegan Cookbook Club which meets at 11:30 a.m. on the first Thursday of every month at Mount Royal Branch Library. Contact Ambrosi at email@example.com.