How to chop parsley for Tabouli

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Here is how to chop parsley for tabouli salad, which is a labor of love! But so worth taking a moment to get the chopping down with these simple tips.

Green parsley bunch in a white and yellow towel

Follow my tips for how to chop parsley for tabbouleh and many other recipes. Learning the best way to cut parsley is an important knife skill to make cooking faster and easier.

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?!”

The ultimate Lebanese tabouli salad recipe 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 the wrong guy. Whenever I have tapped into this lesson in patience, in taking one’s time without haste, the results have been not just ok, but splendid.

How to select Parsley

Parsley is such an essential ingredient in recipes and as a garnish. Parsley is the primary ingredient in tabbouleh, and it needs to be treated with TLC. I’ve made this salad with flat-leaf parsley leaves as well as with curly parsley. Curly parsley result in a lighter salad with more body, but both taste delicious.

Knowing how to select parsley is as important as knowing how to chop parsley. Choose your parsley with awareness. Parsley should be entirely green with no yellow leaves. Look for bunches of parsley that are crisp and not droopy. Parsley is firmer than cilantro and should look that way.

How do you clean Parsley?

Now here’s where the patience comes in–it’s not just in how to chop parsley, but also how to clean it. Wash and dry parsley really well. Clean parsley 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. Parsley from the garden and grocery store or market may look clean, but then when washed, the dirt that comes off tells another story!

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.

The best way to dry parsley is to shake it in the sink and then gently wrap it up in a dry towel. You can spin it in a salad spinner if you have one. In any case after getting much of the water off the parsley, let it air dry on the counter on a towel. Separate the stems a bit to allow for air flow. Then bundle the parsley in a dry paper towel in a plastic bag and refrigerate, ideally overnight so it’s crisp and plump before using.

Washing Parsley,

Parsley leaves picked from the stems on a cutting board with a box of tomatoes on the side

How to chop Parsley for Tabouli (or anything!).

Pluck the parsley leaves from the stems.

Pinch all the way up against the leaves where they meet the stems. No stems allowed when chopping parsley! They will be bad news in your mouth.

Use a large, sharp knife to chop.

Chopping is always easier with a large chef’s knife, your kitchen essential. Your workhorse knife! A sharp knife makes chopping so much easier and more enjoyable. Sharpen knifes every six months.

Chop the parsley on a cutting board by making a big pile of leaves that are dry and have no water droplets in them. Wet parsley sticks to the edges of the knife and makes chopping difficult (and irritating!). Rough chop over the whole pile, then keep chopping over the pile back and forth until you have a fine chop.

I made tabbouleh once for friends back in Chicago and was in a hurry; I didn’t chop it finely enough, and the result was like eating plate garnish. I noticed most of everyone’s tabouli 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.

Finely chopped green parsley on a chopping board with a silver knife

Tips and FAQs for Parsley prep:

How do you store parsley?

Store parsley in the refrigerator after you wash and dry it. Wrap parsley loosely in a clean, dry paper towel and place in a zip top bag in the refrigerator.

Can I chop parsley in a food processor or blender?

When you chop parsley for tabbouleh or any recipe in a food processor or blender, the results are quite wet and mushy. Parsley is much nicer chopped by hand with a sharp knife. However, for large quantities of parsley, using the food processor may make sense. Drain wet chopped parsley in a fine mesh strainer in the sink.

What is Italian parsley?

Italian parsley is also known as flat leaf parsley. The leaves are flatter and larger than curly or regular parsley. Italian parsley is an herb used in many cuisines around the world, and particularly in the Mediterranean diet. Italian parsley has slender stems with flat, dark green leaves. The flavor of Italian parsley is fresh and herbaceous and rather subtle.

Can I use Italian parsley for tabbouleh?

Italian parsley is delicious in Lebanese tabouli salad. This parsley is flatter than curly parsley (regular parsley) so keep that in mind when determining quantity needed. Use double the amount of Italian parsley for tabbouleh.

Do you use the stems of parsley?

Parsley stems are too tough for salads and sauces. Don’t use parsley stems in most recipes for salads and sauces that call for parsley. Parsley stems are fine to use when making chicken, beef, vegetable or fish stock.

How to dry parsley

Dry parsley simply by leaving parsley leaves (removed from the stems) in a single layer on a paper towel, tray, or plate at room temperature until dry. The leaves will curl and lighten in color as they dry. Store dried parsley in a jar with the lid closed or in a zip top bag, the same way you store other dry spices such as basil, oregano, or mint. Crush the dried parsley leaves to a powder between the palms of your hands or in a mortar and pestle when using in recipes.

Substitutes for parsley

The best way to substitute parsley is to use another variety of parsley in your recipe, either flat leaf or Italian parsley or curly parsley. The flavor is very similar.

Parsley vs. cilantro

Yes, these two herbs are very different! Parsley has a more subtle flavor than cilantro. To tell the difference between parsley and cilantro, go by shape, smell, and taste. Cilantro leaves are slightly more rounded. Parsley leaves are larger, firmer, and more pointed on the tips. The scent of cilantro is more floral, some describe the scent of cilantro as soap-like. Parley has a mild, fresh, herbal scent. The flavors of the two herbs are like the scents: much different, cilantro more floral, parsley more fresh herbal and milder.

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  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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!

    1. Tina, your reunion tabbouleh is impressive!! I like all of the veggies you use…sounds delicious…

  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. 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. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. My mother used to gather up all the parsley in large leaves of iceberg lettuce to hold it all together, and then she’d chop away. So the iceberg lettuce was incorporated into the salad.

  12. Wash, wash and soak that parsley!

    I made eight 2×4 trays of kibbeh for my sisters wedding. Received so many compliments. Best kibbeh. Believe me, I was humbled.
    My Tabuleh on the other hand is legendary. (By the way, always organic parsley. (If I can get it. Brighter flavor.) Many Lebanese family cooks. So… guess who makes most of the food for get togethers? We all do and love it! Just love sitting around the table talking, rolling grape leaves and so on. Before you know it, Dinners for 30!
    Plus, we all have a translated cook book from Arabic to English with the as authentic recipes as can be. Amazing book.
    The rose water thing…not for me. And everyone else in my hood! ✌
    Happy Eating!

  13. My mother was 100% Sicilian. We lived above my Lebanese grandparents in an upper flat in Detroit. My sittoo instructed my mom in all things Lebanese cooking and also grinding her own spices. My mom had 4 kids under the age of five and a full time job. I’m sure she cut corners out of sheer exhaustion. She made spinach pies for a
    Friday meal and we stood at the oven door waiting for them To Come out. We let the steam escape and practically arm Wrestled to be the first. The first bite was
    Exquisite. The next one – crunch. My mom took a bite of hers, sat down at The kitchen table and began to cry. All of
    That time and effort – she forgot to wash the spinach! Did that stop us? Hell no’.