How many diners out there push that sprig of parsley to the side of the plate with the exhausted
lemon wedge? Or fill your plates with that iceberg lettuce salad but ignore the beautiful curly
leaf kale that’s used as a wreath around the outside of the salad bowl? How many actually eat
that lone carrot stick garnishing the Reuben sandwich?
My guess is that many of us ignore these little food accoutrements for various reasons; “it’s
probably not the freshest produce since it’s only a garnish”, “I didn’t order the steak just so I
could eat the parsley garnish” or “garnish is simply not meant to be eaten, it’s like that plastic
green stuff in the take-out sushi container”.
Why Garnish At All?
I never understand why any restaurant would garnish their plates if the garnish itself didn’t
enhance the flavor of the main object on the plate. When I dine at an expensive restaurant, the
hors d’oeuvres, entrée or dessert itself had better stimulate my appetite and not some little sprig
of chervil or tomato skin rosette or inedible baked figurine. After all, if you’re spending the
better part of a paycheck at some of these establishments, the dish itself should entice your
hunger and not some well placed sprig of who-knows-what produce placed atop of it.
When dining at budget restaurants, it’s not like the garnish will fool me into believing that the
simple burger in front of me is now a wagyu beef, truffle burger simply because there’s a little
parsley sprig next to a tomato skin rosette next to the burger. And if these restaurants insist of
using a carrot stick garnish, how about serving a handful of carrot sticks – “do you ever serve
just one French fry”?
How About Garnish as the Focus of a Meal?
As a noble suggestion, how about elevating these simple “garnishes” as the focus of the meal?
For starters, many of these simple garnishes are actually nutrient packed food sources. The
“green” variety such as parsley and kale are great sources of calcium – the form of calcium that’s
readily absorbable and doesn’t cause the milk-alkali syndrome that some tablet forms of
calcium can cause when taken in excess. They are also excellent sources of vitamin C, beta
carotene and folic acid and also contain a fair amount of iron. Like spinach, they also provide a
rich green color to any dish (so consider using them in place of spinach) and they can easily be
propagated in your own yard (though the garden critters that thrive in Hawaii’s warm, tropical
climate also seem to have a taste for parsley and kale).
Unless I’m preparing a spinach salad, I always substitute blanched kale for chopped spinach. I
also follow Emeril Lagasse’s lead by adding handfuls of chopped parsley to stews and soups ala
Emeril’s mother, Ms. Hilda. How about a cilantro pesto instead of simply using individual leaves
to garnish your stir fries? And grilled green onions kick up any potato salad instead of just
being used to garnish your bowl of ramen.
For starters, I have two recipes that elevate these “garnishes” from accoutrement to star on your
dinner plate. I learned several years ago from a co-worker who emigrated from the Middle East
that tabouli or bulgur salad was actually supposed to be a parsley based salad. However the
Americanized version tends to be grain based (though bulgur is one of the better grains since it’
s whole grain and has a low glycemic index and low to medium glycemic load which means that
your blood sugar doesn’t peak like it does with refined carbohydrates). Therefore, my version is
“garnish” based. Serve as a side dish on your Thanksgiving table or chop leftover turkey and add
to the salad for a complete dinner salad meal!
Garnish in a Garnish (or Tabouli Stuffed Tomato)
1 & ½ cups bulgur
2 cups stock (chicken, vegetable or water)
8 plum or 4 small/2 large tomatoes – chopped to ¼ inch cubes
1 peeled (seeded) cucumber – chopped to ¼ inch cubes
½ cup sliced green onion
1 cup chopped fresh mint (about 1 large bunch)
2 & ½ cups chopped fresh parsley (at least 2 large bunches)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup lemon juice (anywhere from 2 to 4 lemons)
salt & pepper to taste
8 medium tomatoes
Bring stock to a boil and add bulgur (while bringing stock to a simmer I infuse the liquid with
dried mint and coarse chopped garlic then strain out solids before adding dry bulgur). Cover,
remove from heat and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Mix next eight ingredients. Add to cooled
bulgur and let sit for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Slice about ¾ inch off the top of each tomato then remove seeds and internal tomato flesh
with a melon baller. Fill with bulgur salad and serve as a side dish… and these tomato bowl
“garnishes” taste better than simple tomato skin rosettes!
The next recipe provides about 30% of your daily requirements for calcium. Once again, consider
serving it along with the rest of your Thanksgiving favorites!
Kale & Wild Mushroom Casserole
2 large bunches of trimmed kale (fills a large colander)
1 medium diced onion
2 tablespoons of olive or canola oil
2 tablespoons of flour
2 cups skim milk
½ pound of mixed wild mushrooms (cremini, shiitake, etc) thinly sliced
4 egg whites and 1 whole egg
½ cup fine bread crumbs
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon each of dried basil & oregano (or mixed herbs of your choice)
Ground black pepper and salt to taste
Dash of garlic powder
Trim the main rib off of each kale leaf. Parboil kale for 2 minutes then drain well. When kale is
cool to touch, roughly chop kale until it resembles chopped spinach. Two large bunches should
yield about 4 cups of chopped kale.
Meanwhile, sauté onions in frying pan on medium heat using non-stick spray instead of oil.
Cook onions for about 3 minutes until they are soft. In a sauce pan add oil and flour and cook
over medium heat until the flour is incorporated into oil – cook about 2 minutes. Add milk to
the flour/oil mixture and wisk mixture so that flour/oil incorporates evenly into milk and
continue cooking until this “sauce” thickens to coat the back of a spoon – this takes several
minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms to the milk mixture and cook until the mushrooms have
wilted – about 2 minutes.
Combine the kale, milk/mushroom mixture, onion, cheese, herbs and salt/pepper and mix
thoroughly. Add the bread crumbs and eggs making sure the eggs are thoroughly mixed into the
mixture. If it seems too watery, more bread crumbs may be added.
Spray a 2 quart baking dish (11 x 7 x 1 & ½ inches) with non-stick spray and place kale mixture
in the pan. Pat down evenly and bake at 325 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. This can be served
hot or cold.
Don’t Waste That Garnish!