Why three times? How to prep parsley for tabbouleh.

My brother has a good friend he met in medical school who came from a big, wonderful East coast Italian family. The Italian father ruled the roost not unlike my own: with a firmness that is known in our family to inspire “fear of father.” As in, “that kid needs a little fear of father in him, so he’ll straighten up.” One day at the family’s auto shop, this father’s voice could be heard ever so quietly over the loudspeaker, calling his son to attention. “Dominic,” he said quietly, then silence. “Dominic,” again in a hushed voice, followed by silence. Then at a fiercesome pitch: “DOMINIC, why three times?!”

Tabbouleh has taught me a lot about patience. It is one of those dishes that will taste just ok if the preparation is rushed, but will be splendid if you take your time to do the small but important tasks that make it great. It’s stunning to consider how this applies to a whole host of life experiences. If only I had in mind the wisdom of tabbouleh preparation at certain critical junctures, like dating (and…cringe…even marrying) the wrong guy. Whenever I have tapped into this lesson in patience, in taking one’s time without haste (I think often of that moment in Mass, when we pray for protection against “needless anxiety,” the kind that comes with making haste), the results have been not just ok, but splendid.

Parsley is the primary ingredient in tabbouleh, and it needs to be treated with TLC. I’ve made this salad with flat-leaf as well as with curly parsley and am convinced that the curly leaves result in a lighter salad with more body. Choose your parsley with awareness—no yellowing, and lots of nice curls.

Now here’s where the patience comes in. You’ve got to wash and dry that parsley really well. Clean it by dunking bunches in a big bowl of cold water in the sink and shaking it up in there. Pull the parsley back out, pour out the water and replace with new, and rinse it again. Then do it all again. Three times, making sure there is no grit in the last rinse water. The parsley from my garden looked clean, but then I washed it and learned otherwise. Be sure to pull the parsley from the water before pouring it out or you’ll just be dumping the dirt back onto the parsley along with the water you’re discarding.

Dry the parsley by shaking it out good in the sink and then gently wrapping it up like a child after his bath in a dry towel. You can spin it in a salad spinner if you have one, and if not let it air dry on the counter on a towel. Then bundle the parsley in a dry towel in a plastic bag and refrigerate, ideally overnight so it’s crisp and plump.

Pluck the parsley leaves from the stems, pinching all the way up against the leaves. No stems allowed! They will be bad news in your mouth. The leaves are then chopped finely with a sharp knife. (Maybe this will be the dish that gets you to take your knives in for sharpening; you will be amazed at the difference it makes in cooking.) I made tabbouleh once for friends back in Chicago and was in a hurry; I didn’t chop it finely enough, and it was like eating plate garnish. I noticed most of it was left on the plates, as garnish would be, after dinner. I’m going to disappoint you and say that it’s not ideal to chop parsley for tabbouleh in the food processor because it churns the herb into a wet mess. Tabbouleh is a lot of chopping, a labor of love. But if your parsley is bone dry and you are making enough for a Lebanese family reunion (which I don’t recommend), you’re going to go ahead with the food processor and care less about patience, perfection, and all that.

Tomorrow: Tabbouleh. A recipe.

This entry was posted in Techniques and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Why three times? How to prep parsley for tabbouleh.

  1. Peggy says:

    So so true about the washing, sister! I didn’t know about the overnight rest in the refrigerator to plump it up – will bear that in mind next time.

  2. Patti Markho says:

    Maureen, I just caught up on all of your August posts that I missed while I was on vacation and it was a delightful way to start my day. It was like taping five episodes of my favorite show and sitting down on my couch (uninterrupted) with a big cup cake to eat as I watch. They were all just delicious. I have to say that I think the Aunt Hilda post was my favorite. I’m thinking of starting the “Rose Water and Orange Blossoms Fan Club”. This is the best reading!! Keep’em coming!!!

  3. Rina Thoma says:

    Beautiful Maureen, BEAUTIFUL:) You’re blog is my connection to my former life. A life where grocery stores have herbs like curly parsley and grains like cracked wheat:) Not around here sister! Gotta venture over to France for that. Good thing the border is only a 30 minute drive:) I love the simplicity in your recipes and I love your tabbouleh! The minute I can get my hands on some curly parsley and cracked wheat, I’ll be shakin my booty till the sun comes up!!!

  4. Michele says:

    Your posts and pictures are beautiful…now I know why I’ve never been able to work with parsley well, too wet!….I love the lesson of patience in cooking AND in life…thank you for the reminder and I’ll be passing this on.

  5. katie dyos says:

    YUM!! Thanks for the inspiration Maureen. Your beautiful recipe will be made this weekend for friends in Tahoe. You are amazing. I love your blog.
    We miss you in SF!

  6. Tina Hogan says:

    How about every year i make two trays of tabbouleh for our reunion. one with salt and one without! i do use the processor after pinching the parsley (most important) but only on pulse a couple of times. have to have red pepers, celery and cucumber in there!

  7. When you go to Lebanon you will find the parsley there unlike anything you have ever tasted; the leaves are so tender, so soft, it makes for an amazing tabbouleh.

  8. Christine Hogan says:

    I add picking cukes chopped and chopped celery.and regular onion chopped too
    …you are right have to pinch the parsley! its good to have helpers for this job!

  9. Pingback: Tasting Jerusalem: Let's Do the Baharat! - OMG! Yummy

  10. joe jackson says:

    I’m gonna offer a parsley “life hack”. After thorough washing and drying, gather by the stems (think that a ’round’ about the diameter of a Quarter works best), take a very sharp knife and run it away from you at an acute angle and 1/8th of an inch off the stems up the bunch to the end. Turn the bunch over 90 degs and repeat, turn and repeat…etc. You’ll effective ‘shave’ the leaves from the stems leaving very little of the latter. This technique also works for other leafy herbs.

  11. Ginny Abood Baldini says:

    I always pick the parsley before I wash it. My mother always said that the first wash of parsley should be done in lukewarm, well salted water. The salt really cleans the parsley and my mom insisted the warmer water perks up even partially wilted parsley.

 

I'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>