This is the first of a 10 part series in which we will cover all the mysterious green leafy things that your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other/platonic friend/BFF may ask you to pick up casually on your way over for dinner. 10 herbs? That’s a lot of herb.
The very word “herb” is confusing. Do you pronounce the “H?” Should you dawn your Pince-nez, bad British accent and turn your nose up? I would suggest pronouncing it without the “H” so it rhymes with “verb” so you don’t sound like a pretentious tool-face.
But I sympathize. Herbs are confusing. They all sort of resemble each other and are sold in neatly organized bunches which makes it even harder to tell them apart.
But have no fear. I’m here to demystify these flavorful bunches of vegetation. Each herb has a unique look, flavor and scent and can make or break your home-cooked meal. Herbs are NOT for show. Garnishes are for pansies. Herbs add bright flavor to spicy curries, balance the acids in tomato sauces and make dull salads delicious.
On more than three separate occasions I have asked boyfriends in various stages of a relationship to pick up parsley at the store. This is usually because I’ve forgotten it or assumed I had some in the produce drawer. Or, more often than not, I thought I had fresh parsley when in fact my parsley has become limp and soggy. The only drawback of herbs is that they spoil quickly and you almost never need more than a pinch or two for a certain recipe. Often, when I ask for parsley, I get its less sturdy and more lemony cousin cilantro. The first time this happened, I laughed it off. It’s an easy mistake to make. Parsley and Cilantro are almost identical when you don’t know what to look for. (I was going to make a joke about choosing between parsley men and cilantro men but it felt too Carrie Bradshaw) Produce sections are confusing, labels along the top of the case don’t correspond to the stacked bundles of leaves below.
So, what IS the difference between parsley and cilantro? The short answer: a lot.
But first, let’s clarify our terms.
I’m talking Italian, or flat leaf parsley. Not the curly, less flavorful kind you’ll see alongside bad salads at TGI Friday’s. Lucky for you, curly parsley or the WRONG kind of parsley is actually difficult to find. So when someone asks you to find parsley, you are looking for flat leaf parsley. Parsley has dark green leaves that are longer than cilantro leaves. They are sturdy and shouldn’t disintegrate in your hand.
Many people claim to not like cilantro. This I find absolutely disgraceful, akin to gluten free fad dieters. There is a very specific food allergy to cilantro and I’m no expert so read this Nature article if your cilantro tastes like soap. Symptoms range from strange mouth tastes and sensations to anaphylactic shock. Like celiac disease, it’s awful and and life changing so if you don’t like cilantro, just say it. Ahem Carey Bradshaw.
There’s even a parody website called ihatecilantro.com which I came across while googling “cilantro allergy.” But it’s very likely that you DO like cilantro. You like it on your tacos and in your pho. Cilantro leaves are bright green and flimsy. They are often more wet than parsley and perhaps are already showing signs of going limp.
3 Easy Steps for Parsley vs Cilantro Identification
If you follow these three simple steps, I guarantee you will be able to successfully identify parsley and cilantro thus avoiding a death stare from your usually loving and gracious chef.
1. Ask for Directions
Okay boys, I know this is hard but it’s possibly the only way you’re going to not fuck this up. ASK FOR HELP. Ask the nice man unpacking the box of potatoes to show you where the cilantro is. Ask a fellow shopper who looks like they know their eggplants from their aubergines (hint: they are the same thing)
2. Compare and Contrast
If there’s no one to help, use your skills of deduction. I think the biggest give away is that parsley is much sturdier. If you take a leaf of parsley between your fingers, it shouldn’t disintegrate. Cilantro on the other hand is flimsy. It’s a lighter green and is usually more “wet.”
3. Phone a Friend
Take a photo with your smartphone and text it to the person who requested the herb. It’s 2014 baby! Snap a photo with the message, “Is this parsley?” and then pretend to compare beer prices while you wait for a response.
Found what you’re looking for? Great! Here’s a recipe that uses these devilishly similar herbs.
Roasted Eggplants with Chimichurri
Serves 2 as a side
You will need:
1 medium eggplant
1/2 cup olive oil (8 Tablespoons)
3 Tablespoons very finely chopped parsley
2 Tablespoons very finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 clove of garlic
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
fresh ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch thick rounds. In a large bowl, coat the rounds in 4 Tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 3 healthy grinds of black pepper. Lay the eggplants flat on a baking sheet and roast for a total of 25 minutes, flipping halfway through. You want them to be nicely golden brown but not burned. Note: cooking times vary based on how cold your eggplant is so make sure to keep an eye on your eggplants so they don’t burn.
2. Crush the garlic in a garlic press or mince very finely. Add garlic, parsley, cilantro, oregano, red wine vinegar and 4 tablespoons olive oil to a small bowl. Mix thoroughly and add 1 teaspoon salt and a grind of pepper. Mix with a spoon gently so you don’t crush the herbs too much.
3. Spoon the chimichurri over the eggplants and serve warm. OR coat the eggplants in the chimichurri and store in the fridge overnight. The flavors will develop into an insane herby garlicky delicious explosion.