Summertime is for fresh herbs

Introducing parsley, the salt of the herb world

Parsley is one of my favorite ingredients. The salt of the herb world, parsley's fresh, herbaceous qualities serve to highlight, accent and brighten almost all savory dishes. Beyond just garnish, herbs like parsley, dill, cilantro and mint form the foundation of many dishes around the globe, especially in regions surrounding the Fertile Crescent. High summer is the best time to layer vibrant fresh herbs into every nook and cranny of the diet.

Beyond adding flavor and freshness, herbs like parsley are a significant source of vitamins A, C, K and folate, and are loaded with good-for-you antioxidants. Shower shredded basil over the top of scrambled eggs, or make a vivid green herb pesto to give tired weeknight chicken a boost. And don't throw away those parsley and cilantro stems. Chop them separately from the leaves to ensure consistency, or add them to soups and stocks. To stash away some summer in your freezer, process fresh herbs with olive oil to make a paste, then freeze the paste in ice cube trays. Simply pop out the herb cubes and use them as needed on your favorite dishes.

Most herbs are easy to grow and thrive in full sun. And a few, like parsley and chives, can tolerate some shade. Harvest and Blooms Farm, located in Rochester, sells a variety of beautiful herbs at the Old Capitol Farmers Market, in addition to heirloom vegetables and flowers. Once home, wrap fresh herbs in a paper towel before placing in a zip-close bag and storing them in the crisper section of your refrigerator. Basil, it should be noted, does not keep well in the cold environment of the fridge, and is best when treated like cut flowers, in a glass with water.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Parsley is the primary ingredient in Tabbouleh, a Levantine salad popular throughout much of the world. Traditionally made with soaked bulgar wheat, I've taken to using quinoa instead.

½ cup quinoa
¼ cup good quality olive oil
Juice of one lemon
1 medium cucumber
1 or 2 ripe tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 large bunch parsley
½ cup packed mint leaves
Salt and pepper

Boil the quinoa in salted water for 12 minutes (red quinoa will need to cook 1-2 minutes longer). Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and let drain. Toss in a nonreactive mixing bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the lemon juice and let sit until room temperature. While the quinoa cools, prepare the remaining ingredients. Peel the cucumber if desired and split it lengthwise. If it has large seeds, remove them by scooping them out with a spoon. Cut the cucumber into large dice, and do the same with the tomato and add them to the quinoa. Grate or mince the garlic and finely chop the entire bunch of parsley, including the stems, and the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add to the bowl and toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve. This is best served right way because the tomatoes lose quality in the fridge. If planning to make ahead, combine all the ingredients except the tomatoes and cucumbers, and wait to add those just before serving.

Chimichurri

This raw Argentinian sauce is traditionally served with grilled meats, but it's also delicious on top of grilled vegetables, tofu, fish or mixed with mayo and strained yogurt for a quick zippy dip.

1 large bunch parsley
2-4 cloves garlic, to taste
Juice of one lemon
½ teaspoon sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or marjoram (or use 1 tsp dried)
A generous pinch of salt
A pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
½-2/3 cup olive oil

Roughly chop the parsley and garlic and add it to the bowl of a food processor along with the lemon juice, vinegar, oregano or marjoram, salt and pepper flakes. With the motor running, pour in the olive oil in a thin stream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cream of Parsley Soup

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1 large bunch parsley
1 quart good quality unsalted chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream

Roughly chop the onion, garlic and parsley stems. Set the leaves aside. Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until foaming, then add the chopped onion, garlic and parsley stems. Season with a pinch of salt and cook until the onions begin to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the remaining parsley leaves and simmer one minute more, then remove from heat. Add the cream and then carefully purée the soup. A handheld immersion blender works well. Be sure to use great caution with blending hot liquids – pressure can build up in the blender and cause hot soup to explode all over you. Pour the puréed soup through a fine-meshed sieve, then return it to the pot and bring it back up to serving temperature. Garnish with additional chopped parsley and a drizzle of cream if desired.

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